michelle yeoh in crazy rich asians

Crazy Rich Asians – a RomCom that Takes Love Seriously

Karin Kallmaker Cheers & Chocolate, Craft of Writing 2 Comments

Box office blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, which I saw this week, succeeds so well as a romantic comedy that I was left wondering how it is that so many romcoms don’t. I think this is the core of the problem:

You can poke fun at the couple’s foibles, and you can put them in awkward situations, but you can’t make light of love itself.

Therefore your story people must be worthy of love. If they’re not worthy, then the story diminishes the value of love, and builds the plot on a foundation that won’t support a genuine romantic premise.

theatrical poster crazy rich asians

Lots of Tropes. Used Well.

To be honest, Crazy Rich Asians deploys several predictable romantic tropes: disapproving-mother, fish-out-of-water, poor-girl-in-rich-town. They are nevertheless entwined for a story with near perfect beats that’s made fresh with a beautiful setting, rousing soundtrack choices with a light supportive score, plus strong primary and secondary performances, not to mention a couple of “busy-ness” choices that surprised and delighted like a good romantic story should.

While the characters occasionally were foolish or momentarily not their best selves, they were never unworthy. For example, they didn’t tell stupid lies, attempt payback, or try to be people they’re not for the sake of the relationship. Even the disapproving mother acknowledges love exists even as she disapproves of her son’s choice. With a wedding as a centerpiece of the story, over-the-top decor, bachelor and hen party antics, plus social bitchiness, it never once questions the reality that the celebrants love each other.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians’ unabashedly forthright, sumptuous take on established romantic tropes – to the point of thinking, “wish I’d written that” once or twice. I haven’t read the book by Kevin Kwan (yet), but I surely enjoyed the screenplay by Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli.

theatrical poster Monster in Law

Lots of Tropes. Used Poorly.

As I watched Crazy Rich Asians I compared it in my mind to Monster-in-Law, which failed for me precisely because its disapproving-mother trope was played out through cardboard characters built on sexism. No story that hates its women can convince me that anyone in it believes in love. How is it possible to admire a woman who gets even with her addict mother-in-law by slipping drugs into her food? How about a man who shrugs off the vicious catfights with an “oh you women” air?

Nobody deserves good love in Monster-in-Law. The “evil” mother in law is the only one with a backstory to some of her motives (she has lost her career as a journalist largely because of age and having gone over the table at a 20-something pop star who doesn’t get why feminism matters). What empathy that might bring is lost under substance abuse played for laughs.

michelle yeoh in crazy rich asians

Besides, Michelle Yeoh

I’m a long time fan. It’s the primary reason I looked forward to Crazy Rich Asians. She can tell stories with her eyes, and she does so in this movie. Her complexity is another reason the disapproving-mother trope goes beyond cliché. It’s always delicious tension when the “bad guy” isn’t entirely wrong. (I yearn for the day CBS releases Star Trek Discovery on DVD.)

For the record: Because I Said So already included Mahjong as part of Kesa Sapiro’s social network. I was jazzed that I’d learned enough about the game to understand the significance of certain plays and how they underscored the scene’s main points.

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