Crazy Rich Asians
“Crazy Rich Asians,” based on Kevin Kwan’s novel and directed by Jon M. Chu, is billed as a romantic comedy with an all Asian cast. The story centers around a wedding – that family rite of passage that is filled with signs and wonders, hopes and dreams, love and future. But the wonder-filled celebration cannot alchemize the pervasive anxieties of being human. We are anxious much because we have much insecurity, worry, fear, and longing. Some get more anxious than others. The crazy in “Crazy Rich Asians” is not the eccentricity or quirkiness of Asians. The crazy is their outrageous wealth, conspicuous consumption, wasteful extravagance and voracious avarice. Those who study this stuff suggest that crazy rich people have a greater disposition for anxiety. It is called the anxiety of abundance. The more we have, the more anxious we are with what we have; the more we accumulate, the more we want anxiously.
Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel (Constance Wu) are in love. He takes her home to Singapore to meet his family. He comes home to be the best man of his best friend’s wedding. The moment she walks into the family estate, Rachel is overwhelmed by his family’s wealth. She meets the matriarch, Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Under the refined elegance, she is plagued by anxiety. She wants to please her revered mother-in-law but will never measure up. A family gathering to make dumplings is a metaphor that Eleanor will never be good enough with her husband’s mother because the folds in Eleanor’s dumplings are never perfect enough. She is anxious to protect her family, family fortune and family’s heir of that fortune. She is desperate that Nick chooses well between personal desire and familial duty. Immediately, she decides that Rachel is unworthy of her son, or rather, of her family. “You are not enough,” she dismisses her. That is, Rachel can never be rich enough to qualify. Her family, education and career can never be good enough to belong. And her love for her son will never be enough to be in her family.
Nick’s aunts, cousins and friends are just as anxious in abundance. They jitter nervously between the anxiety of conceit and deceit. They flounce pretense about family loyalty, traditions and acceptance, but deep within, they are full of angsts for something more that will never be enough. So they fake happiness when present with one another but gossip maliciously in their absence. Nick’s sister, Astrid (Gemma Chan), in an unhappy marriage, seems the only one authentic enough to confess her anxieties. Rachel finds a friend in a former school mate, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose family is also crazy rich. But theirs is new money. And her parents are anxious to keep up with the elegant respectability of Eleanor’s family. However, as comic relief, their ostentatious display of consumption is tacky, loud and over-the-top. The crazy wealth of these Asians clutters the screen with boisterous glitters that assault the sensory.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is a typical love story with rich Asians: boy brings girl home to meet mom; mom rejects girl; boy must choose between family and future. At the end, as a metaphor of that freedom of choice, Rachel plays mahjong with Eleanor. As in life, the mahjong tiles may be random, but Rachel has the prerogative to play her given tiles. She lets Eleanor win, but not. Walking away, Rachel glances back, but without solicitude, for she knows that she is freed of Eleanor’ anxiety of abundance. An early scene where Eleanor has Bible readings with her lady group suggests a form of religious life. But the teachings of the Gospel’s peaceableness do not seem to assuage the anxieties of her wealth’s many concerns.