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Crazy Rich Asians

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie that could have gone wrong for all kinds of reasons and instead does everything right. It is cleverly designed to give audiences a taste of the cultures of both America and Singapore and it is delivered by terrific actors who understand perfectly what their all-Asian cast is trying to do. Don’t miss this one.

We first meet Rachel (Constance Wu), an Asian economics professor in New York City. She is deeply in love with Nick (Henry Golding), a handsome Asian from Singapore on a temporary stay in New York. Without telling her much about his background, this nice guy takes his new love to visit his family in Singapore. The couple is dropped into the ultra-luxurious chaos of that city – a challenge for them and a heap of fun for the audience. As the film shifts between showing us the culture and the couple, we sink in with alternating laughter and concern.

Nick, we learn, is expected to take over the family company in the town where his entire family lives in unimaginable luxury. Director Jon M. Chu takes us on a comical romp through the cultural excess balanced by the serious demands by both his family and the city for Nick’s permanent return.

Those are the bones, and they are carried by a terrific cast. There isn’t one thing not to love about the performances of Constance Wu and Henry Golding. We root for them all the way. A third outstanding – though decidedly not lovable – performance comes from Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mother. From beginning to end she turns her coldest self to her son’s beautiful girlfriend who she sees as “the American threat.” Hers is as quietly powerful a performance of dignified cruelty as we are likely to see in a very long time. To Rachel she says, “You will never be enough.”

We are given a wonderful look at the extraordinary architecture of Singapore along with the culture of an unfathomably rich gang of citizens who make the wealthiest part of New York City look like a slum. Despite all the excess that surrounds them, It’s just plain fun to watch this couple we already like so much as they move through the opulence while facing up to the cruelty of Nick’s mother. When the general resentment of Rachel begins to look both permanent and mean, our attention turns from the comically ludicrous luxury to the reality of a good love story.

Where did the magic come from? An earned salute to director Jon M. Chu who directs a fun, nutty story as his fine actors plow gracefully through the jokes, the customs, the music, and the opulence. This is the kind of zany fun we rarely have during a night at the movies. Welcome to the Asian film industry. Without suggesting whether you will cry in sadness or delight as the end approaches, there were tears in that theater as the lights went up.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 2:00
Rating: PG-13
Date: August 26, 2018

Disobedience

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Disobedience

Disobedience is a quiet, strong movie that pierces convention in many ways. The risks it takes are delivered with subtle use of gestures and voice. Director Sebastian Lelio, his team, and a fine cast have delivered an unusually complex story in a provocative way.

Ronit, a professional photographer in New York, has returned to London’s orthodox Jewish community to attend the funeral of her father Rav Kruschka (Anton Kesser). She is greeted with widespread disdain by those who believe she deserted him. Two old friends welcome this woman they once knew so well. It is the three of them who will deliver the complicated emotions of the movie with quiet skill that holds our attention.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) had experienced attraction to each other as teenagers and Ronit is astonished to find that Esti has married their old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). The two women find their mutual attraction very much alive and it unfolds against the anger of the orthodox community. Confusion engulfs the three of them.

That confusion is born of the anger of the tightly knit religious community, of Dovid’s understandable distress, and of the deep honesty of each of the women who love each other despite the rigidity that surrounds them. As their physical affair unfolds, they show us the confines of the community that Ronit once ran from and Esti has accepted. We watch three adults work toward a decision in a culture with strict rules for thinking and behavior.

Each of the women delivers her prevailing philosophy of life. Ronit, who couldn’t stand the conformity of the orthodox community, fled to New York to escape her resentment. The anger resurfaces as soon as she returns to London. Esti, who shares so much of Ronit’s bright spirit, falls into deep confusion – to stay in loyalty to husband and orthodoxy or to flee with her friend.

Esti, after all, is married, in a restrained and acceptable kind of way, to Dovid who is a rising power in the consuming culture of the orthodox faith. It is all heightened by the affair, both emotional and physical that unfolds between Esti and Ronit. In lesser hands, all this could easily have been a genuine misfire. Delivery without histrionics by Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, leaves us free to sink into their dilemma with genuine curiosity.

What is the role of a deeply strict religious culture in a modern society that celebrates personal freedom? What happens when smart young adults who grew up in that culture are lured by the new flexibility of the modern world? The absence of villains here is what makes this movie provocative. Because the acting is so good, we are free to explore all the questions they are asking. Do I stay, or do I go? Which rules: loyalty or freedom? Three exceptional actors lead us in that search while remaining honorable and kind.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Disobedience
Word Count : 494
Running Time : 1:54
Rating : R
Date : May 13, 2018

This review was posted on May 13, 2018, in Drama, Romance.