Notice which critics are swooning over “Crazy Rich Asians” in their reviews?

crazy.jpgIt’s going to make a metric ton of money, and everybody likes it — most everybody reviewing it, anyway.

A 100 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes does not lie, though it hides the shades of grey in opinion about “Crazy Rich Asians,” an ultra-light, shallow but upbeat and goofy riff on that corner of the One Percent who came from China and scattered across the Pacific Rim to find their fortune.

Which is why we’ll look at the Metacritic ratings for this one. The “How MUCH do you love me?” shadings there serve a higher purpose and break down the film’s relative merits with more graphic subtlety (77 Metacritic, 100 on “fresh or rotten/thumbs up or down” Rottentomatoes).

My grade for the film, which I saw as hit or miss, with too little “craziness,” too much conspicuous consumption played for (weak) laughs, somewhat fey male leads who frankly had more chemistry with each other than with their lady friends, works out to 68 — 2.5 stars out of four. The director, Jon M.Chu, did “Step Up 3D” and “GI Joe: Retaliation” and “Jem and the Holograms.” Don’t try to sell me on him being the next Ang Lee, Paul Feig, Kevin Feige, Spike Lee or Mike Newell. He isn’t.

But look at the surnames of the other Metacritic-aggregated critics who are, with their inflated scores –100 for a few — bending the rating skyward on “Crazy Rich Asians.” “Yu, Kang, Ng, Chang.” See a pattern there? Shocking! Take away their swooning and it’s a more measured 70, 73 on the Metacritic scale.

Some weeks back, San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, in the person of employee Martha Lauzen, crunched Rotten Tomatoes ratings for “female directed/female centric” films and concluded that male movie critics are “harder” on such films than female ones, implying sexism on their/our part.

This had to have been inspired by the beating “Ocean’s 8” endured, prompting Mindy Kaling to get in a huff, as it was not unlike the smackdown of the distaff remake of “Ghostbusters.”

Lauzen wasn’t wrong with her numbers, but she blundered into a perfectly incorrect — if headline-grabbing (The New York Times reprinted the press release) — conclusion. As I argued in that last link, it’s not that male critics are necessarily under-rating such films, it’s that critics of the gender matching that of the filmmakers and/or topline stars are in this case grading these films on the curve. Female critics are identifying with whatever (of whatever quality) is up on the screen more than male critics and in the process, cutting these movies slack.

That’s human nature, and we’ve seen it in movies and criticism going back forever. African American critics may have embraced earlier and bailed out on Spike Lee, John Singleton or Tyler Perry later than white ones (not always) because of a connection with the stories they were telling and the ways they told those stories. The formulaic and slow-footed “Creed” and “Black Panther” had skewed critical perceptions because of their representation. OK movies, but 4 stars out of 4? Seriously?

“Crazy Rich Asians” promises to be a phenomenon, a “Big Fat Greek Wedding” sized hit, if not “Wonder Woman” or “Black Panther” sized. It’s Americanized and Westernized in the extreme, but defiantly, amusingly Chinese, more of a hybrid adaptation of  age-old romantic comedy tropes than a true “culture clash” comedy (Again, see “The Wedding Banquet” for that).

I would expect critics of Asian origin to embrace the representations, the broad spectrum of comic “types” the screenplay, based on Kevin Kwan’s novel, presents. If racial identity was any part of their cultural upbringing, of course they’re going to get more out of it than me or other critics not from any Asian culture. I think they’re giving the movie a bit of a break (4 stars out of 4? Seriously?). But so what? In these cases, there should be an overriding sense of “there’s nothing wrong with that” bias.

Me? Have I ever panned a picture featuring a sailboat (“All is Lost,” “Adrift”)? Panned, well, maybe, but certainly not trashed. Bias. Everybody has it. We’re all different, with different biases. Get used to it, take it into account.

So before some Center for Study of Asians in the Film and Television decides that “white critics are harder on Asian films” is a thesis they’d love to prove, see the film, take some notes. Count the times you actually laugh and maybe figure out if those laughs are of the Chinese “inside baseball” variety. There’s a bias in the reviews, a perfectly acceptable or at least understandable one in all these cases. Try not to miss the obvious or make more of it than you should.

“Crazy Rich Asians” opens Wednesday.

 

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One Response to Notice which critics are swooning over “Crazy Rich Asians” in their reviews?

  1. lee says:

    I’ll have to reserve final judgment until I watch the film, but I suspect there’s nothing really revelatory (I see terms like this used a lot in the reviews) about it. A plot involving a young woman having to contend with a controlling mother in law or family is standard stuff in the K-drama world. These shows often hook viewers with contrived but emotionally manipulative scheme of some sort that corners the vulnerable female lead at every turn. The lead in this movie sure looks like your typical smart mouth American sitcom character.

    The all Asian casting is a milestone for the crowd emotionally invested in representation. But that’s only in the American context. Many Asians don’t wait for Hollywood to “represent” them – they already watch dramas and variety shows featuring nothing their own people. Hollywood movies will be perceived as “foreign” regardless of the makeup of the cast.

    Hollywood gets Asians wrong like 99% of the time. It always amazes me how they’re completely unaware about how many Asian American actors butcher the language of their motherland onscreen. I’ve heard Asian characters on American TV say something like “this is the way of our people” based on something obscure. I wish Hollywood would just give juicy roles to charismatic Asian actors and just let things roll organically.

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