Don’t get me wrong. Crazy Rich Asians is an amazing movie. I absolutely love it. I saw it the day it came out in theaters, and I bought the Blu-ray as soon as it was out. But Crazy Rich Asians is not a good romance. That is not where its strength lies. I would argue that the film barely cares about the romance. It’s not the important part, despite all the marketing telling you that the film is a romance.
Rachel and Nick
There are two romantic relationships that Crazy Rich Asians focuses on. There’s Rachel and Nick, the main couple who you see on all the posters, and Astrid and her husband whose name I did not bother memorizing. Since Rachel and Nick are the main pairing, we’ll be focusing on them. Quite frankly, they’re less interesting, but they’re who the marketing focused on. So, let’s break them down.
Nick and Rachel are just meant to be cute. They have no depth. Let me explain what I mean. What do you actually know about their history? Their shared interests? Why they even like each other? Sure, they’re both attractive, smart, and charming people. But like…why were they drawn to each other? The movie expects us to immediately buy into them as the perfect couple, and that’s because there’s absolutely zero tension ever. They’re just perfectly happy, which is fine but doesn’t make for a good romance.
The worst part about Nick and Rachel is that there should be tension. There’s a point when Astrid mentions how Nick should have prepared her for “the wolves,” and he absolutely should have. He told her nothing. He didn’t prepare her at all. This is briefly mentioned after the horrific bachelorette party, but then it’s never brought up again. If this was a romance, that would be the tension. That would be the conflict.
You can argue that there is conflict between them because they, of course, do break up for all of thirty seconds, and he has to propose on a plane. But…that conflict has absolutely nothing to do with Rachel and Nick. It’s not about their behavior or their issues like it is with Astrid and her husband. So, what’s it about?
The Emotional Core
The primary focus of this film, and the thing it really cares about, is family. Rachel and Nick are able to be kind of lackluster as a couple because their relationship isn’t what the film is really exploring. The familial relationships take center stage over and over, particularly Rachel’s and Nick’s relationships with their mothers.
It’s all about Rachel being not acceptable to the family. Nick and Rachel’s problems almost entirely originate from this concept. Their tension is entirely external, rather than internal.
You could easily make an argument that the most important relationship in this film is Rachel and Eleanor, Nick’s mother. They have to learn to respect each other. They have to learn how to live with each other. They have to face off in an epic Mah-jongg battle at the end of the film. The tension in the film revolves around them. When Nick proposes to Rachel at the end, you don’t care because of the actual proposal and prospect of them getting married. It’s about the ring because it means that Eleanor has given her approval of the relationship. It’s about Rachel and Eleanor becoming family too.
Earning Your Moments
Crazy Rich Asians is a great gateway to explaining that you need to earn your moments. By this, I mean that you have to put in the groundwork throughout the story so your resolutions matter. The reason this film works so well as an example is because it both earns and does not earn its moments simultaneously.
Let’s use something we already talked about as an example: the proposal scene on the plane. If this was a movie about Rachel and Nick and their romance, this moment wouldn’t be earned. We haven’t seen enough tension and conflict between this couple for their getting back together to really matter beyond “Oh, so cute!” However, when we reframe this movie to be about family, this moment is completely earned. It’s the resolution of Rachel’s conflict with Eleanor.
It’s all about what you put your effort into. For instance, to use a basic example, if your story is all about your character overcoming the odds and getting into college, then they have to actually overcome odds. There has to be conflict and obstacles in their way. If they just get what they want without any struggle, then you don’t really have a story. You haven’t earned them getting into college because in a sense, they haven’t earned it. Every story needs to have true conflict and tension or your resolution means absolutely nothing.
Crazy Rich Asians is a well-written, well-made film. But it is not a romance. There isn’t enough driving force beyond Rachel and Nick for it to be a romance. They don’t have enough conflict that actually revolves around the two of them and their relationship. Rather, this film is an amazing examination of family dynamics.
What do you think? Do you agree? Did you care about the romance in Crazy Rich Asians?