CRAZY RICH ASIANS
With speculation about the non-acceptance of asian students by Harvard for want of discernible personality comes the reactionary celebration of an all-asian cast romcom, with no discernable personality. Typical in form and outcome, this stereotypical film about the Asian matriarch and her families gold from historical origins is little better than the other romcom on Netflix (“To All the Boy I Loved Before“) being celebrated for similar reasons despite its obvious deficiencies and tryptophan writing.
The two central characters have the background for depth and yet did serve as nothing more than the cliché anecdotal small talkers that romcom characters have become. One, an economics professor at NYU (Constance Wu), is wasted on an entry-level poker gimmick to explain the psychology of risk and reward and an end game exhibition of bland gamesmanship using mah-jongg that has the effect of magically winning over the approval of a headstrong mother.
The other main character (Henry Golding) is described well in the film as the asian bachelor and serves as little more than a sweet guy with family wealth with no discernable qualities or goals aside from being a “nice guy.” The plot is based on the confluence of wealth and tradition: with the Uber-rich family of Golding pressuring him to take on a more traditional wife to build the family dynasty and bullying Wu to bow out as some sort of American commoner with overrated qualities of intellect. The glamorized look of the superficial bachelorettes littered throughout the film is made worse by its main effect of drowning out the social commentary.
To be fair, alongside the fairy-tale romance, there is a social struggle here between the American pursuit of individual happiness and the Chinese ideal of sacrifice for family. Most of this is mentioned in passing without the requisite competence of writing to probe richly into the backbone of material. Relying instead more firmly on its stereotypical comic relief (Awkwafina) and the “jack of all trades” token gay guy (Nico Santos) who mopes around in eager anticipation for the next errand to fulfill. With the exception of a beautifully done wedding, there is nothing here to separate it from other shallow romcom installment for consuming wine coolers.
The fact that this film got comparable scores with Bridesmaid is further indication that today’s critics don’t have the requisite discernment to distinguish able comedy with Netflix Original quality work (made abundantly clear from our previous post). And something that viewers should remember when considering relying on Rotten Tomatoes scores. We can all thank the two top critics who at least got this right. A word from them.
Kate Taylor (The Globe & Mail):
Clearly, some Asian audiences may experience this film (produced by a largely Asian and Asian-American creative team) differently. A white viewer such as myself witnessing this overblown display may find themselves in that awkward territory where somebody else’s ethnic comedy leaves them feeling complicit in racial prejudice.
Alana Mohamed (Village Voice)
The most interesting moments in the film are also its most coy. Astrid suffers silently through her husband’s affair with another woman, ignited because her wealth makes him insecure. At the film’s close, she leaves him, donning the earrings she once hid. It speaks to the dismal state of Asian representation that this display is meant to be a moment of triumph and not ridicule.
The critics who liked it collectively tripped over themselves to find another way to repeat what we all instinctively know about romcoms: they are fun vacuums for sucking up time without adding to human capital.
Crazy Rich Asians is no different.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
With momentary competence in filming — stage and music design especially — Boots Riley fails to offer a genuine look past the stereotypical low hanging fruit of attacking the white population for its “racism” and unscrupulous allowance for human rights atrocities for capital gain. Critics who overlook this staggering tapestry throughout the film do so in hopes of distracting the audience while offering a window into their own inability to see the rooted social commentary in action.
The film depends much on a variation of toilet humor, female empowerment through coarse dress iconography, and tasteless performance art. It’s the type of film that makes you appreciate Blindspotting all the more for creating an honest script without gimmicks or mainstream pop-mantras (even if both films end poorly).
Sorry to Bother You does have some genuine moments of laughter and decent social commentary about the exploitation of human labor and the value of protest in overcoming actual (instead of perceived) injustice and wage inequality. What it doesn’t talk about is the price each worker has to pay for unions to exist (monetarily and on their free expression), the process of forcing a business to increase its wages without the workers deserving such promotions and then not being able to retain the full roster of employees; whereby, the union makes it impossible to get rid of anyone thus forcing incompetent employees to stay on board for more money or bankrupting the less affluent companies. These are all complicated ideas that would add to the depth of narrative, but that’s not how our politically divided culture works and we will never trust Hollywood to produce many films rich with nuance and research.
Knowing critics largely embrace anything that the democrats promote, a film about the value of unionism versus ethically strained capitalism is sure to receive high-praise. One day, someone will be able to entangle the nuance of both sides in creating a truly groundbreaking modern comedy that divides critics for its sheer unapologetic social commentary by taking no prisoners and refusing to mollycoddle to industry fanboys. Until that time, we have to watch the collective bargaining of the Hollywood community collectively sing the praise of less worthy employers who sing the right tunes of political orthodoxy.