Audiences went coo-coo for “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood-produced film with an all-Asian main cast (plus a director, Jon M. Chu) since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” The weekend’s No 1 film grossed $34 million in five days and has already made back its budget. Like its predecessor, it is based on a best-seller. It also is a rare romantic-comedy released by a major studio so far this year. Given the love it is getting from critics, it looks as it is not so crazy to think it could be a shoo-in contender in the Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy category at the Golden Globes.
However, I am most curious about whether Oscar, which can be rather comedy averse, will warm to it. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” a surprise 2003 blockbuster that also found humor in its central family’s ethnic quirks, could only manage a nomination for Nia Vardalos’ original screenplay. As for “Crazy Rich Asians,” its only surefire nod is costume design for all those crazy gorgeous gowns and perhaps the newly conceived Best Popular Movie.
But if I could make a wish, I would ask the awards gods to consider Michelle Yeoh for supporting actress as the insanely wealthy and influential matriarch who does everything in her power to prevent her drop-dead handsome son and heir to the family fortune from marrying his unpolished Asian-American girlfriend.
It’s true that rapper Awkwafina delivers her retorts with firecracker panache while benefitting from being in another summertime gals’-night-out hit, “Ocean’s 8.” Yeoh, however, gets to deliver a sly slow-boil dramatic performance amid all the sumptuous fairy-tale trappings and funny family business. Perhaps her best moment comes when her son’s intended challenges her to a mahjong showdown that is akin to a poker game-induced shoot-out in a Western. As a martial artist who has kicked butt alongside Jackie Chan in “Super Cop,” Chow Yun-Fat in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger” and Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Yeoh is one lethal competitor. Which only heightens the stakes and makes the scene the most pivotal and surprising in the film.
How good are her chances to slip into the supporting actress category, especially in such an enjoyable confection? Better than it might seem, since mothers have tended to fare well this decade, especially if they can make us laugh a little and cry a little. In the 2017 race, Allison Janney’s scathingly funny take as skater Tonya Harding’s abusive mama snagged a trophy for “I, Tonya.” Meanwhile, Laurie Metcalf’s micro-managing mom in “Lady Bird,” was her main competition.
Patricia Arquette claimed a prize in 2014 for her matriarchal survivor in “Boyhood,” while Laura Dern shone in “Wild.” Jacki Weaver made the cut as the mother of a kooky clan in 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” June Squibb was a stitch in 2013’s “Nebraska.” And Melissa Leo KO’d the competition as she lorded over her brood of nine in 2010’s “The Fighter.” It seems to me that the Academy has been crazy for smothering mothers for a while.
But what truly would be worth celebrating if Yeoh gets recognized? The fact that only one Asian actress has ever won an Oscar in the supporting category – Japan’s Myoshi Umeki in 1957’s “Sayonara” – and three others have been nominees — Meg Tilly in 1985’s “Agnes of God” and her sister, Jennifer, in 1994’s“Bullets Over Broadway” (their father is Chinese) and Japan’s Rinko Kikuchi in 2006’s “Babel.” It would be terrific if Yeoh is allowed to join this sisterhood — and possibly even win.