I desperately needed to stay away from politics and too much world sadness this week, so I decided to begin my viewing with a romance. The formula for romance is: Boy meets girl, sparks fly. Alas, there is an insurmountable obstacle (referred to henceforth as I.O.) to their love (the conflict). They get together anyway. The I.O. rears its head and breaks them up. There is a black moment when all seems lost. Somehow the I.O. is surmounted and love wins after all. “Crazy Rich Asians” is a prime example of the formula, and a fine, lush, fun ride it is. The China-born boyfriend (Nick) went to British boarding schools and is the heir to a hugely wealthy Chinese family dynasty. The girl (Rachel) is Chinese-American, from a lower class and was raised by a single mom—although Rachel is also an economics professor at NYU, so let’s remember there is a brain at work. They met in America and have been dating for a while. Nick has managed to keep her from knowing about how wealthy he is [potential conflict] and now, assured that she isn’t after him for his money, he’s ready for the next step: He invites her to come to China with him for a family wedding, where she will meet his extremely tradition-bound family [more potential conflict]. That’s the set-up and all I will say about it.
The producers could not have found a more attractive cast than the one that’s up there on the screen. Constance Wu and Henry Golding glow as the lovers and Michelle Yeoh is Nick’s formidable mom. Awkwafina provides salty, comic moments as the heroine’s former college roommate, and the stunning vistas of Singapore provide the mind-boggling, sumptuous background. The film really is a feast for the eyes and all the senses; we get to go to formal balls and fun parties and salivate to close-ups of gourmet Chinese chefs at work. There are gorgeous gowns on gorgeous women, upbeat soundtrack songs that are sometimes sung in English and sometimes in Chinese. “Crazy Rich Asians” is the perfect way to avoid reality, so if that sounds tempting, I suggest you avail yourself of its charms.
Netflix is showing a decent version of a bestseller of a few years back, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” It, too, is a romance, but that’s not the main focus of the story. Set in 1940s wartime England and immediately afterward, we follow young London-based writer Julia Ashton (Lily James) who receives a letter from a member of the abovementioned book club. She is intrigued enough by the title and the location to take a trip to that small island off the coast of France, which was occupied by the Germans during the war. Once there, there are secrets to be uncovered, wartime losses to be shared and mourned, and a surprising change of direction for Julia. As always, the casting of gifted English actors—some of whom started out in their twenties and are now in their 70s and 80s, such as Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton—lifts up a script from mediocre to something much more.
Dame Agatha Christie wrote 66 detective novels before her death in 1976. One of them, “Ordeal by Innocence” (published 1954), has been made into a three-parter on Amazon Prime. Despite some annoying special effects—lots of dripping blood and rusted hardware that keep appearing and don’t particularly further the plot, but rather act as time-fillers—it’s quite a good adaptation. A titillating one, too, and I’m pretty sure a lot of the seamier details were, at best, only hinted at in the original book. Bill Nighy stars and he’s always worth watching, even though this particular role does not call on his comic timing at all. It’s about the murder of a family matriarch for which the wrong person is punished, and it all comes back to haunt everyone. Fine acting, especially by Anna Chancellor and Matthew Goode; a good script; and competent direction make it a worthwhile three-hour binge.
By my next review in two weeks, I should be ready for some reality again.