Reel Dad: Crazy Rich Asians delivers delightful escape

Perhaps it’s the weather. Or the world’s mood. Or, maybe, a message filled with hope is just what the world needs, at this moment, to believe that people can find ways to get along.

Much to the surprise of many, the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians has become a global phenomenon, prompting people who haven’t been to a movie in years to rush to theaters to watch a daffy collection of exaggerated characters navigate the beauty of Singapore and the complexities of relationships. Not since Bridesmaids or Little Miss Sunshine has a film seemed to come from nowhere (well, not quite, since this was a bestselling book) to be the movie to see without the benefit of super heroes, loud explosions or character generation. Crazy Rich Asians is simply about people. Marvelous people. Fun people to spend time with.

The plot is secondary to the experience. Yes, the movie tells the story of a young man who dares to find his own path in life by going out on a limb and land a good job in New York City, live in a lovely apartment and fall in love with a beautiful young woman. How could he? But his mother, a strong, determined soul living the good life in Singapore, has other ideas for her child. She always imagined he would come home, take over the family business, and supply her with enough grandchildren and happy times to fill her golden years. They spend a couple of blissful hours entertaining us with their egos and schemes, hopes and disappointments, while showering us with sensational visuals to illustrate how some people live. With a few one-liners along the way, too.

What joy this movie generates. Throughout the theater, people laugh at the jokes (with some sharp observations of New York City), smile at the friendships, react to the opulence, and pull for these young people to follow their hearts rather than their bank accounts or families’ wishes. Director Jon M. Chu, working with a dream cast, fills each moment with a sense of joy, wonder and hope, never letting the opportunity for a punchline to get in the way of an opportunity to enrich the experience. We’re left with a sense of hope that, in a world filled with people who look for opportunities to express hatred, there are people, as crazy as these characters on screen, who build their hopes for each other on foundations of love. Even when these Crazy Rich Asians disagree, they offer respect, caring and truth, because they fundamentally believe in each other.

So, turn off the streaming, check in later on the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as delightful as she can be, and make the trek to an actual movie theater to spend a couple of hours with people who will make you smile and believe in the textures of this world that people can share. Sometimes the best way to binge watch is to find a delightful movie and watch it a couple of times. In a theater.

Film Nutritional Value: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is rated PG-13 for “some suggestive content and language”. The film runs 2 hours. 4 Popcorn Buckets.

The Hundred Foot Journey: Feel good cinema comfort food

Like a delicious meal at a favorite restaurant, Crazy Rich Asians delights with its balance of new delights and familiar moments.

A similar “feel good” film, The Hundred Foot Journey, also warms the palette with its touching story of a young man who discovers his destiny as a master chef. While the characters can feel familiar, and the situations may become predictable, the film is prepared with so much style we don’t care. After all, who goes to movies about food to try new recipes?

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom — in a tone similar to his Oscar-nominated Chocolat — Journey opens in India where a food-focused family must relocate after their restaurant burns during a political riot. They accidentally settle in a small village in France where the eating scene is dominated by a Michelin-rated establishment owned by the starchy Madame Mallory, well etched by Helen Mirren. But this resilient family, headed by a patriarch with strong values and determination, happily selects a building directly across the street from the Madame’s formal location to introduce their unique Indian fare to the village diners.

Such a set up gives Hallstrom the chance to do what he does best: frame a clash between people who are too proud to change. As he did in Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, the director takes a romanticized look at how people face their differences. Without exploring the potential for racial or cultural bias, Hallstrom shapes the film into a series of personal tug-of-wars between strong-willed people with different approaches to food. On one side of the street, the Madame protects the traditions that created her reputation; on the other, the driven Papa Kadam pushes his patrons to savor new delights. Only when the Madame discovers the culinary potential of Kadam’s son, Hassan, do the stubborn adults begin to see beyond their differences.

Director Hallstrom decorates his story with some of the best-looking food to grace a screen since Julie and Julia a few years ago. He artfully creates the competing kitchen environments as symbols of opposing views; the Madame runs her restaurant as a strong, disciplined leader who refuses to compromise while Kadam uses his kitchen as a place of exploration. As Hassan grows as a chef, Hallstrom gives him amazing dishes to prepare, using food as a character to visualize the young man’s growth. As Hassan searches for his own path, Hallstrom cleverly lets the character’s love for food define how home can feel.

The film looks beautiful — set in a village that anyone would want to visit — with a cast who bring truth to the roles. While Mirren may not reveal many new layers, she is so winning as Madame Mallory that we easily overlook any familiar moments. The charismatic Manish Dayal brings charm and precision to his portrayal of the young chef while Charlotte Le Bon delights as the sous chef he can’t stop thinking about.

Best of all, director Hallstrom returns to form after last year’s overcooked Safe Haven. As the director has shown for more than 30 years, he knows how to tell a story. Just like a favorite meal, The Hundred Foot Journey offers familiar flavors that satisfy our cravings, for now, and leave us wanting much more. Much like the new hit film Crazy Rich Asians.

The Hundred Foot Journey is rated PG for “thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality.” It runs 2 hours, 2 minutes, and is available to stream online. 4 Popcorn Buckets.