I have a couple married friends--Derrick Clements and Katie Kyle--who are in town visiting me this weekend. We decide to go see John M. Chu's monumental film Crazy Rich Asians, starring the incomparable Constance Wu. The film is smart, quick-witted, warm-hearted, thoughtful, extravagant, and fun! These are all things that I expect it to be. But what I don't expect is to get a bit misty-eyed towards the end.
There's a moment in the third act. We see a predictable rom-com beat--a change of heart, a symbolic gesture--and Derrick turns to Katie with a gleeful, wide-eyed expression on his face (this is an expression he wears often, but authentically). The rest of the audience coos in delight: "awwww!"
And I'm holding back tears.
I spend the next twelve hours wondering why my reaction to the film's twists and turns, and to its fairly by-the-numbers approach to romantic comedy, hits me so hard, in such a satisfying and emotionally resonant way.
Is it because of the film's context as a radical new voice in an industry that has, historically, ignored Asian and Asian-American stories? Is it because the film's cast and crew is full of lovely, smart, talented Asian folks? Is it because I have long hoped for a film like this, a film with a cast full of people who look like me, people whose bodies and cultural backgrounds aren't used as a mystical, exotified, over-sexualized, objectified, Orientalized prop? Is it because the film has a wonderfully tense mahjong scene, in which the rules of mahjong are never explained like an oddity or tourist attraction for the benefit of some presumed white audience?
It is because the film seems to understand not only the big picture things but the small, subtle truths of Asian and Asian-American identity? Is it because the film portrays every detail--from dancing to dumplings--with meticulous, loving care and textural curiosity?
Is it because the film finds meaningful and nuanced ways to dig into themes like familial expectations, money, class and privilege, the shadows of British and French imperialism, generational bonds, and the contrast between the Chinese desire to "build something that lasts" and the more American ideal of "following your passions?"
Is it because the film works simply as an effective and heart-warming romantic comedy, with endlessly likable performances from Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Awkwafina, and just the right amount of Ken Jeong? Is it because the film taps into the potential of a sort of forgotten genre, and just really sticks the landing on every twist, turn, and trope? Is it because I haven't seen a pure rom-com this endearing (other than The Big Sick) since Hitch in 2005?
Is it because Katherine Ho's Mandarin cover of Coldplay's "Yellow" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard?
Is it because I'm in my thirties, and Crazy Rich Asians' exploration of what it means to be in love resonates with my life experience much more closely than I'm used to seeing in melancholy dramas about adulterous 50-year-olds or raunchy comedies about impulsive 18-year-olds?
Do yourselves a favor. Go see this film right away. And cry a little happy tear at the end. For all of the above reasons, and for any others that might be relevant. It's a delight.