“I love this!” Dania said, pointing at the kaleidoscopic credits sequence that twirled across the screen. “All the animated stuff in the movie was really good.”
“Was there a lot of animated stuff?” Gwen asked.
“The phone sequence!” Eleanor said. “With everyone sending texts about Rachel. That was filmed fantastically. Such a good use of the medium. And the cut back to Rachel and Nick in the bar is perfect!”
“Oh, that’s how you spell Awkwafina,” Dania said, as the actress’ name flashed onto the screen.
The trio began to shuffle out of the theater. Eleanor noticed that her cheeks were sore from smiling through the entire two-hour runtime – and were a little damp from the final scenes, as well.
“I’ll admit,” Gwen began, as they exited to the street, “I was worried it wasn’t going to live up to the hype. I had no doubt it would be good, but I was a touch worried.”
“And did it live up?” Eleanor asked.
“Essentially, yes,” Gwen admitted.
“Good, I was about to get real defensive,” Eleanor warned. She exhaled, a release of tension that became a satisfied sigh. “Ugh, I’ve just been waiting so long since the book came out. It’s surreal to finally see it on screen like this.”
“How’s the adaptation?” Dania asked. “Did they change stuff?”
“Oh, the whole ending is different, everything in the last fifteen minutes,” Eleanor said. “If they do a sequel, it’s not going to be China Rich Girlfriend, the actual written sequel.” She paused, and considered. “They might call it that, but there’s gonna be more changes if they want everything to link up.”
“Do you think they’ll make a second one?” Dania asked. “I mean, they should, totally. But will they?”
“If it does well at the box office,” Eleanor said, with a grin. “It’s supposed to. It’s the film of the moment, the one everyone is talking about.”
“Despite only being out a few days,” Gwen added. “Although I can see why.”
Dania smirked. “A frontrunner for the Best Popular Film Oscar, for sure.”
Eleanor glared at Dania. “Don’t talk to me about that. This film’s gonna get more than just that award. I want Awkwafina nominated for Best Supporting Actress.”
“Honestly, same,” Dania agreed.
“Also, did you hear that score? I’m not one to go out and get film soundtracks but I want this one! It’s just so cosmopolitan with an Asian twist. Shout out to the composers.”
“Sound design in general is exceptionally strong here,” Gwen agreed. “There’s something so sinister about the clicking of mahjong tiles during the scene with Rachel and Eleanor. I’m not quite sure how they did it.”
“It’s just specificity,” Eleanor suggested. “There’s proof all over the movie that they care so much about every detail of the production.”
“It’s honestly sensory overload some of the time,” Dania said. “Like, the bachelor party for Nick. I could barely pay attention to what was going on, there’s so much on screen.”
“I feel that’s the point, though,” Eleanor suggested. “Gross excess all throughout. But, like, tasteful gross excess.”
“So, just excess.”
“It certainly feels like an alternate world,” Gwen posited. “By doubling-down on the cultural allusions and details of the Singapore elite lifestyle, the emotional drive of the story is clearer for all audiences. Not bothering to explain things to a presumed white audience forces them to do the work of relating to the characters.
“And it’s not that hard to do when the characters are so likeable,” Eleanor crooned. “Constance Wu is absolutely perfect. The way that she’s both amazed by the wealthy world, but doesn’t do that dumb rom-com thing where her confusion makes her immune to social cues. She holds a lot of her amazement close to the chest, and lets it out when she’s with Nick.”
“Even a character like Goh Peik Lin manages to – okay, full disclosure,” Gwen said.
“Prepared,” Dania replied, dryly.
“I was not entirely sure I was going to like Awkwafina in this movie,” Gwen said. “Everything from her in the trailer screamed, ‘comedic side character best friend.’ The kind who doesn’t take the main character’s issues seriously, who tells her to loosen up, who disappears in the third act when things get serious. I was worried about the tone of the movie.”
“And she didn’t do that.”
“She didn’t!” Gwen cheered. “The moment that Rachel gets back from that wedding, she is there, she is supportive, she even drops the crazy demanor and speaks more directly. It humanizes the character so much more.”
“There’s a really interesting thread with how characters present themselves in this movie,” Eleanor added. “No one has any pain out in the open, everything is bottled up and released later. But it is released. So you don’t have that Hollywood trope where the characters are just passively mean to each other the whole way before you have a shouting match at the climax. The language of looking calm keeps the tension very high, while allowing audiences to still lose themselves in the glamour of it all.”
Gwen considered this, then offered a golf clap. “Rather insightful commentary, Eleanor.”
“I just want all the scholarly articles about this one, okay?” Eleanor groaned. “I just want some future student to write their thesis about this movie, and for it to be brilliant and dig into all the layers that are here.”
“Also I want all the dresses,” Dania added, after a moment.
“Also I want all the dresses!” Eleanor repeated. “Like, I know there’s trashy rom-com stuff here, but it’s mixed in with something genuine.”
“Oh, I’ve got no trouble with rom-com stuff, don’t call it trashy,” Dania said. “You already mentioned that everything looks amazing. Like somehow all the colors just look more colorful in every scene.”
“They likely bumped the saturation up,” Gwen explained.
“Sure,” Dania dismissed. “But it just looks great. There’s some really cool bits where the camera is positioned just right and the scene pops. There’s this one tracking shot from above during the wedding reception, of the dancers? I don’t even know why it’s there, but it makes the whole scene look tight.”
“Symmetry plays a big role in the cinematography,” Gwen added. “Nick and Colin on the floating bachelor boat, any shot of two characters lying on beds together, the constant use of double doors to reveal new locations.”
“The wedding scene,” Dania reminded.
Eleanor gasped, recollecting. “I actually think my brain turned off,” she said. “Or paused, or whatever. That’s gotta be up there with the most astounding entrances of any character in any movie, ever.”
“I’m not one to be left speechless often,” Gwen admitted. “But that did it.”
“How many non-Asian people,” Dania wondered aloud, “are going to try to replicate that scene and fail miserably?”
“Oh, so many,” Eleanor laughed. “Give it a year. Someone’s already planning.”
“You know what was a very nice touch?” Gwen suggested. “Small, but important: all the tension is familial, and not based on people falling out of love with each other.”
Eleanor snapped her approval. “Call it out, thank you.”
Dania, however, looked askance. “What do you mean?”
“The movie has two romantic couples in it,” Gwen said. “The leads, obviously, and the couple actually getting married. The latter are simply in love the whole way through, and the scene of them operating as a single unit when Rachel and Nick arrive in Singapore is an excellent way of getting the audience to immediately care about their relationship long before the wedding scene. It builds the stakes organically.”
“True,” Dania said. “But Nick and Rachel have relationship drama all through the movie. Maybe it’s caused by the mom, but it’s still sort of a ‘will-they-or-won’t-they’ movie.”
Gwen waved a hand back and forth, a non-committal response. “I considered it obvious that they would.”
“But I wasn’t sure!” Eleanor said. “That whole mahjong scene, I was convinced I knew how this movie was going to end. The actual ending kind of threw me for a loop.”
“Well, it’s a rom-com,” Dania stated. “There are certain tropes that are unavoidable.”
“But the movie already avoids so many of them,” Eleanor suggested. “If there’s gonna be a movie that goes for that unexpected twist ending, it’s this one.”
“Doesn’t it technically do that?” Dania asked.
Eleanor smiled. “Maybe, in a sense. Depending on if you know the tropes.”
“I do hope people go to see it,” Gwen said. “It’s such a technically impressive film, on top of the representation angle. I predict it will have a long life after the theatrical run.”
“It can do a lot of good to normalize this kind of cast in the future,” Eleanor suggested. Before she could continue, however, she remembered one thorn in the film’s side.
“That said,” Eleanor added. “I do have some questions about the South Asian representation in this movie.”
“What about it?” Dania asked. “That they’re not in the leads?”
“Well, that makes some sense, if they’re supposed to be Old Money Chinese,” Gwen suggested.
“I’m not saying they needed to cast Priyanka Chopra as Rachel – as amazing as that would be,” Eleanor said. “But maybe cast some brown people who aren’t playing servants to the light-skinned Chinese people.”
Gwen and Dania thought back to the film. It hadn’t been obvious to them at the time, wrapped up in the film’s feel-good hyper-rich-escapist atmosphere, but sure enough, all the maids and servants who floated around the Young family household were South Asian.
“That…should probably be addressed,” Gwen said.
“Maybe it’s intentional?” Dania said. “Doesn’t make it better, but maybe there’s a sort of Singaporean racism angle that they’re going to look at in the sequel?”
“All the more reason to make a second one, I suppose,” Eleanor sighed. “Let’s hope they diversify the movie a little more than they already have.”
“There’s always another story not getting told,” Gwen said.
Eleanor stared up into the sky. “Then let’s start telling them!” she shouted.
Image Credit: Screen Rant