A 2018 Triple Bill

Three 2018 films that got a lorra lorra love from most critics. But I am not most critics....

Crazy Rich Asians (Jon Chu, 2018) was widely lauded for demonstrating that massive box-office hits didn't have to rely upon Caucasian actors in the lead roles. Instead, the story of Rachel (Constance Wu), an economics professor in New York, who discovers her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) is actually from a family of (you guessed it) crazy rich Asians, won audiences over on the basis of its predominantly Asian cast playing out a sweet romantic comedy, against a background of glamour, wealth and faaaahbulous style, darling. It's pretty undemanding fare which plays out in crowd-pleasing fashion, with Michelle Yeoh on board to give reliable gravitas as the family matriarch. But while it may be worth celebrating as a racial triumph of sorts, it really isn't very memorable and didn't Eddie Murphy do this thing much better with Coming to America back in the 80s? Falling somewhere in the middle on a scale of Sex in the City 2 to 10, Crazy Rich Asians is a sensible, reasonably well-off rom-com.

Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018) was widely lauded for demonstrating that McQueen was just as comfortable directing action thrillers as serious drama, but I personally found it much weaker than his previous output. Based on the 80s TV mini-series of the same name, it is the story of 4 women (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo) who club together to pull off a heist when their respective husbands/partners get killed pulling a similar job. There's also a supporting narrative about political machinations between feuding father-and-son (Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell) and crime lords, the Mannings (Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya) which dovetails in satisfying fashion with the central drama. But I found the whole thing to be competently rather than grippingly assembled, with a central twist that was easily guessed. That said, Viola Davis is great, stealing the money and the whole show.

If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018) was widely lauded for demonstrating that Jenkins' Moonlight was no one-off surprise. And indeed it is the best of the three films featured here, even if I don't think it's as superlative as some have declared. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, it is about how the lives of young lovers Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are affected when Fonny is accused of a terrible crime, while their respective families and friends lend support (or not) round them. It's a simple tale, but Jenkins edits together some beautifully photographed shots and scenes in non-linear fashion to lend real depth and significance to the drama It is a proudly black film, both in the depiction of its characters and locations, as well as its themes, which will of course have resonance for many watching in today's climate. But for all that, I thought it could have had more impact if it had pushed a more angry political agenda. But perhaps that's a little unfair; this was primarily intended to be a tender love story and in its celebration of human decency it succeeds admirably.

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