An Asian-American economics professor travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, and is surprised to find his family is extraordinarily wealthy and class oriented.
If I’m being honest, I had no intention of seeing this film. When I first saw the trailer, I thought to myself, “That looks like a very generic romantic comedy.” Then the reviews started to roll in, and they were surprisingly positive. This film ended up doing quite well at the box office, and it even earned two Golden Globe nominations (Best Actress in a Comedy (Wu) and Best Comedy). I still probably wouldn’t have ever watched this film were it not for our town being plagued with yet another snowstorm over the weekend. I browsed multiple streaming services until I found that this was what HBO had added to their streaming service... with a sigh, I pressed play. Fate, it seemed, had decided I would watch this.
“God forbid we loose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.”
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, “The Lego Ninjago Movie”) is a Chinese American economics professor living in New York. Rachel’s boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding, “A Simple Favor”) asks her to accompany him home to Singapore for a wedding, where he plans to introduce her to his mother Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), Grandmother (Lisa Lu, “Lust, Caution”) and other relatives. Little does Rachel know that the Young family is incredibly wealthy and famous, and Nick is a highly sought after bachelor. Can Rachel convince the cliquey, classicist family that she is worthy of Nick’s hand in marriage?
Let me get one thing out of the way and say that I am in no means this film’s target audience. There was a very specific demographic that was targeted when making this movie, and I can guarantee that it’ll work better for other people than it will for me. As I watched this movie, I found two very separate, but equally valid opinions forming in my mind. One of those views was a far more pessimistic approach, while the other, was a little more optimistic. I decided to list both of my thought processes, and let you, the viewer, decide for yourself how to feel about this film.
I think there are some things about this movie that are absolutely marvelous. I loved the fact that we’re shown a glimpse of a kind of lifestyle I’m never going to see. I think I appreciated more of the cultural elements (like the wedding or some of the extravagant decor) vs. seeing the elaborate and expensive parties. There were a lot of really interesting sets and locations, and I thought the way the film showed off those locations was highlighted by the main character’s awe at what she’s seeing.
I also thought that this film did a good job of preaching against classism. The main crisis throughout the film revolves around the fact that according to Nick’s mother, our main character Rachel isn’t good enough for Nick because she comes from a poorer class and is unfamiliar with their world. Class struggle becomes a recurring theme, and I guess that’s not something I was expecting from a film like this. There were also a couple scenes that touched on nepotism.
I also think this film did a relatively good job of portraying Rachel as a strong independent woman. Her character is successful in her career; she’s smart, and she’s funny and can play the fish out of water role without coming off as ditzy. There were a few scenes with her character in particular that were rather dramatic, and she always did a really good job; I’m honestly not surprised she was nominated for a Golden Globe.
The first sequence of this film shows Eleanor Young walking into a hotel, the hotel clerk refusing her service. Eleanor calls her husband, and then the hotel clerk is informed that the hotel has a new owner: Eleanor Young. Upon the conclusion of that scene I rolled my eyes. I felt like the scene was a very cliché way to introduce a character with a lot of wealth, but at the same time the film addressed themes of racism, so I figured it wasn’t 100% a cliché. Simultaneously, the film seemed to want us to think that buying this hotel was some kind of great moment for Eleanor, when all she did was call her husband and ask him to buy something. Is that really something we should be cheering for? ‘Yeah! This character is rich enough to buy their way out of petty disagreements!’ I was neither impressed nor totally disenfranchised by what I had seen, so I shrugged and kept watching. My reaction to that scene kind of sets the tone for how I felt about the movie as a whole.
There were so cliched scenes that I ended up thinking to myself multiple times, “I have seen this in a different romantic comedy, which one was it?” (awkward dinner parties, dramatic confrontations with mom, meeting at the airport to profess your love- this movie has it all) The movie itself is extremely formulaic; if you’ve seen any romantic comedy along the lines of “Meet the Parents” then you know the formula I’m talking about. Couple in love goes to meet parents for the first time, parents and significant other butt heads, about 2/3 of the way through the movie all looks to be lost, but then before everything ends in tears there’s a joyous moment of reconciliation… sigh… Isn’t it romantic?
This movie also seems to think its preaching against materialism, due mostly to the fact that our protagonist is largely ambivalent towards her boyfriend’s wealth. But just because Rachel isn’t overly obsessed with all of the glitz and glamour, doesn’t mean that the camera isn’t. This movie seems to preach that money and wealth don’t buy happiness, but at the same time, it’s bombarding you with an avalanche of expensive cars, jewelry, houses, parties, hotels, jets… this film is really a celebration of excess, when it claims to be a condemnation.
I personally think this movie got more praise than it deserved, but at the same time, I can understand why, in our material obsessed world, this film did so well. People love a glimpse at the crazy fancy lifestyles they’ll never get to live, myself included (I finished the movie didn’t I?). In a month or two, I don’t think I’ll remember much about the actual characters or the storyline of this film, but there’s a chance I might retain a few moments inside the huge hotels and elaborate parties. I found some parts of this movie rather annoying, some parts were slightly empowering, but overall the film was rather middling.
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