Reading the book before seeing the movie was a new pursuit for me, but with Crazy Rich Asians I really wanted to do it. So, on Saturday morning, with a little extra push from my wife, I sat down and read for about six straight hours, knocking out the remaining 250-ish pages* of Kevin Kwan’s first novel, through a Notre Dame football game and all, and then we bought our tickets to the 7 o’clock show.
(*Please don’t do an efficiency conversion on that.)
It was unlike any viewing experience I’ve had. I knew the characters,* I knew what happens to them in the end,** but I hadn’t ever had that perspective beforehand. So, when snippets of conversations from the book were placed in different scenes in the movie, it was, at first, strange, and then enlightening.
(*Astrid was my favorite from the book.)
(**It’s not as neatly tied up in the book as it was in the movie.)
This was a 500-page novel adapted into a two-hour movie. That much content doesn’t fit into that allotted time, so it’s important to invent new ways to relocate a factoid here or there in the story to bring the kind of perspective the audience can really only get a full understanding of by reading the book, like me. For example, the screenwriters had to create a scene in which Nick Young’s mother, Eleanor, directly revealed her deep-rooted disapproval for her son’s girlfriend, Rachel Chu, because it couldn’t have possibly had time to follow Eleanor through all of her investigative missions she takes in the book. This is also the reason why some characters like “Francesca Shaw” get dropped, while others like “Amanda Ling” take on some of that character’s contributions or why the novel’s fully-developed side story for Astrid gets trimmed up and changed in the movie. It’s also why two separate parties in the book get smashed into one for the movie. Frankly, I was fascinated by the filmmakers’ little maneuvers to bring this story to the big screen.
Nothing changed effected the story negatively. The two biggest differences, Astrid’s storyline and the movie’s ending, were positive, in my estimation. What the writers did with Astrid portrayed a stronger, independent person than the direction she was heading at the end of the book. And while I won’t say anything specific about the movie’s ending, I’ll say this: it created a few very sweet moments and brought some finality to the story. It was every bit the enjoyable romantic comedy I’d hoped it to be.
Constance Wu plays the lead character, Rachel Chu, very well, every bit the sweet, innocent girl from a reasonable American upbringing Rachel was in the books, but Constance also has the moxie to really bring it when the character is asked to play the game, so to speak, to give right back all the attitude she’s getting from all those jealous Singapore socialites and exude the kind of unwavering confidence that makes that Mahjong scene* a real zinger towards the end of the movie.
(*Not in the book. But, again, a great addition.)
There’s Henry Golding as the strapping boyfriend Nick, Sonoya Mizuno as super-bubbly bride-to-be Araminta, Jimmy O. Yang as batshit crazy-as-hell Bernard. They all play their characters well.
But above all others, it’s Awkwafina who steals every scene she’s in, and that’s hard with this many characters in play. But it’s, in fact, her character, Peik Lin, who gets the greatest innovation from book to movie. The movie makes her far funnier and more eccentric than she ever came across in the books. Much of her dialogue is certified fresh. The jokes that smashed in the theater aren’t in the book. They were significantly more topical, as if they were rewritten for 2018, when the novel released in 2013. I’d guess it was because of her comedic prowess, her pace that always arrived as a welcome shakeup to the otherwise cautiously-progressing, side-eyeing vibe, spare a few sequences like the bachelor and bachelorette parties, that the writers inserted her into more scenes. For example, she doesn’t drive Rachel to nor attend that first party in the book, but that night is more fun because of it. It’s the freedom of adaptation, after all. Here are two separate parties into one, why not bring our funnest character along for the ride. If anyone could sell the audience on the excitement of this extravagance Rachel was walking into, it was Awkwafina, selfie-ing her way up the stairs.
Crazy Rich Asians: ★★★, a.k.a. Happy customer