It is exciting that we are finally seeing romantic comedies featuring Asian leads! The romantic comedy genre is a genre that I love despite being extremely picky about it. Rom coms get a bad rep in general for being unrealistic and cliche and rightly so, they contain a lot of generic plot points, not-that-romantic leads, toxic ideals of love, and mostly white people. Do these romantic comedies do anything different? We shall see.
You can imagine my excitement when I realized that TATBILB was becoming a movie. It is, after all, one of my favorite YA contemporary novels of all time. I’ve reread the trilogy multiple times now and I still adore them. I love Lara Jean as a character, I love LJ and Peter, I love the family dynamics, I love the happy-go-lucky feel to it. While I thought the movie was entertaining, I did think it could have captured the essence of the books a lot better (although maybe I am just bitter it did not turn out as I had wanted it to which is also a problem). My main problem with the movie was the cinematography. You might think this is not a big deal, but it made a huge difference to the overall tone and atmosphere of the story.
For example, in one scene where Lara Jean and Peter were talking in the cafe about why Lara Jean kissed him out of the blue, the camera lays its lenses on one person and then abruptly lays them on the other. While this is great for seeing the character’s emotions, it does not bring any sort of chemistry or intimacy to the scene. A lot of the book depended on the chemistry between LJ and Peter and I’m sure the movie wanted to make us believe that they were falling in love, but the detached and stilted way the camera captures the whole room instead of the two characters and the frequent back and forth between just the faces did not help capture any sort of intimate banter between the two.
It also did not help when we were meant to relate to LJ and her relationship with her sisters. The climax did not feel climatic (This bon iver wannabe?? what kind of insult is that) and the denoument felt lackluster. The script also did not help adding to the stiff and almost formal nature of the characters.
I also had issues with Lara Jean’s character. This sentiment was exacerbated of the way the character should be written when I was watching Princess Diaries the other day. At the beginning of the movie, Mia is constantly dropping things and avoiding conversation with her grandmother. We, as the audience, really see that Mia is clumsy and all around socially awkward (although I hate this trope in general) in a unique way but in the case of Lara Jean, I’m only reminded of who Lara Jean is as a character by the way everyone else talks about her–or by the movie being portraying her as a cliche awkward outcast teen heroine as in the scene where she says her boots are from Etsy to the Gen the bully. Also where was all the baking? So in the end, when Josh is talking to LJ about how she cannot keep hiding her true feelings, it doesn’t feel quite as punchy. I did, however, like that they captured fairly well Lara Jean’s naivety and romantic idealism. It’s part of what makes her such a great teen main character.
The movie also did not make good use of its voiceover narration. It should allow the characters to jump back and forth in time but really, that happened only once. I felt it was used more as a copout to explain characters that they didn’t know how to insert in otherwise. For example, Chris did not have to have that introduction of being her best and only friend. We presumably would already know this in the next scene when she is waiting in the cafeteria all alone with no one to eat with her and texts Chris. Waste of a scene to be honest. Also, all the scenes with Gen were kind of a waste as well considering we don’t really meet her in the book until some time later if I recall correctly. I will say though that Noah Centineo who plays Peter Kavinsky was A+! I really could not have thought of a better actor for the role. He embodied a good balance of playfulness and sportiness but there was a sublime thoughtfulness to him that wasn’t forced. He was very different than other teen movie love interests. He was the hands down the best actor out of the whole bunch, with Lara Condor second and Kitty third. Speaking of which, I did not get nearly enough sisterly dynamics. I thought the ending ended on a cute note and it was overall entertaining at least. I guess I just had high expectations for a book series that was so close to my heart. B-
Romantic comedies are a fickle genre for me. On the one hand, I love romance, but I usually hate romance books and romantic comedies get some passes from me but they mostly end up in the C category. Well Crazy Rich Asians really fleshed out the parts of the romantic comedy that I did not like but still stuck to the genre.
The best reason why this romantic comedy was able to have depth is the secondary characters and Rachel’s viewpoints. I’ll start with the secondary characters. I absolutely adored the depth they were given. The obstacles given to the main character in rom coms are usually very one dimensional. Some storytime is given to Astrid, an old money type who contrasts Rachel. Her storyline was actually very surprising to me and it ended on a rather feminist note about the woman being the breadwinner in the relationship.Their storylines collide in similar ways and I really liked it. I also really liked the way the mother was portrayed. In a ton of korean dramas and Asian movies, I see this representation of the cruel mother in law who subjects our heroine to many humiliating experiences. But as disapproving as this mother in law is, we understand why she disapproves even as we are rooting for Rachel.
As she states, Rachel is not “one of our kind”. This statement would have been cliche had the movie not explored the mother in law’s past, had the movie not been truly seen through Rachel’s eyes. Throughout the movie, we see how overwhelming stepping into Nick’s world is. She literally feels like a fish out of water with constant humiliation. This is a lifestyle that she has not lived. As in most romantic comedies, the heroine is usually written to be relatable and it is great how this movie shows the problems specific to an Asian heroine. Rachel faces a lot of the problems that Asian American and Asian women face when they are faced with a disapproving mother in law, a fact that happened a lot. I love that the story constantly brings it back to Rachel’s perspective and how overwhelming it is for her to meet Nick’s family. It is not just a matter of her being poor and him being rich, it’s about the differences in lifestyles and perspectives in the world. Rachel struggles with not feeling good enough for this family and constantly trying to gain respect from people who think she is beneath them. The movie definitely sought to do more than share a romantic story with cultural clash however. It sought to inform the audience about new vs old money in Asia and the camera really dwells on the beauty of Singapore. One of my favorite scenes was the scene where Rachel, Nick and their friends are eating out through the street food markets that pass by.
The cast and crew really cared about making this movie authentic and as such the jewelry, dresses, and outfits were all hella extravagant and expensive.
This movie is very funny and just an all around feel good movie and in fact a movie I would recommend seeing in theaters. The opulence of the set design can be really appreciated on the big screen. I recently read a review on myanimelist about My Hero Academia. It was a review stating that this anime did not seek to break down any barriers of its genre. It sought to be the best of it. And that is what Crazy Rich Asians is to the romantic comedy (aside from of course, the all Asian cast). It did it well and I have to also applaud its focus on its heroines’ growth and change and did not fall into many toxic tropes used in romantic comedies that make us fall in love with the main characters. No clumsy heroine, no changing for a man, no stalkery tendencies, no wrist grabbing, and no infidelity with a mean ex or a nice-but-safe ex. This is what happens when rom coms pay attention to the details. A