3 Stars – Thought Provoking
In the original folk tales of Cinderella, the Prince’s mother is not mentioned. Instead the villain is the wicked stepmother. In this Asian adaptation of the tale the villain is the wicked mother of the prince. This shift from the Greek, Italian and French versions which emphasize the individual good fortune of a peasant woman, to the emphasis on tradition and the value of family turns the story on its head. Now it is the plans the rich family had for the prince that becomes the focus, rather than the love of a prince for his maiden.
Written by Peter Chiarelli, Peter Chiarelli and Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M Chu known for such films as Now You See Me 2 and the documentaries on Justin Bieber, this film is a decidedly upbeat, if not predictable, love story.
The Cinderella character, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is the beloved child of an immigrant Chinese mother who worked serving tables to provide for Rachel’s education. Being raised in New York City, Rachel is now an accomplished economics professor specializing in Game Theory at New York University. The prince, who is unknown as such to Rachel, is Nick Young (Henry Golding). Having met her in America and enjoying her innocence about his true identity, their relationship develops to the place where he decides to take her home to Singapore to meet his family. The first indication that he is more than he seems is when the airline employees not only know him, but conduct them to their first-class suite for their flight. It is then that Nick begins to reveal that he is the heir of a “crazy rich” empire of businesses and real estate holdings.
We won’t spoil the amusing and cruel experiences that are part of this tale, except to note that it is more complex than the folktales to which it alludes. The contrast between the individualistic culture of American with the socio-centric culture of Singapore is ripe with social lessons. Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) states it directly to Rachel when she decries the American desire for happiness. This pursuit of individual happiness is seen as a shortcoming in a culture where family comes first. It is upon this contrast that the film makes its primary and necessary twists and turns.
Similarly, the film shows clearly how the presence of wealth changes relationships. When a person is wealthy, they are often simply admired. But when they are “crazy rich” with nothing to deny them their arrogance, privilege or cruelty, causing those in their circle to have to cater to them in debasing ways, then this truly creates crazy-making lives and relationships. The resolution of the tale speaks volumes about the meaning of life and love.
The wisdom of interdependency, rather than independence or dependence is part of all cross-cultural training. The Bible teaches the dangers of the love of money. Yet the everyday experiences of those living in the gap between wealth and poverty, independence and dependence, are not only difficult but often feel impossible. As we become an increasingly global community may we find out mutually respectful paths we can all share.
- How do you relate to a person who is wealthy beyond your own imagination? Do you find yourself avoiding them, catering to them, or caring about them? What have you found to be helpful in keeping your sanity?
- The friendship Rachel had with Nick was based on their common humanity. Why do you think we often clothe our humanity with possessions and educations that divide us? Does it come from insecurity or pride – or both?
- The pain of Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) comes from a gender reversal of the Cinderella tale in which the male peasant weds the princess. A predictable insecurity results. Do you think that would be true, or is this gender bias?
- Do you think Nick and Rachel will live in New York or Singapore? Why do you answer as you do? Would it make a difference if they changed genders and Nick was the woman and Rachel the man? Would you give up your professorship regardless of your gender?
- What is the place individual happiness and family happiness have in your life?