Ever since the swift collapse of the romantic comedy as a major cinematic genre,* the rare examples of the form that get made and released in a visible way tend to be praised (if praised they are) for how much they feel like classic romcoms. So it has been with Crazy Rich Asians (with additional praise for being the first Hollywood studio release in a generation with an entirely East Asian or Asian-American cast), and I think that's almost right. The thing is, when people say "this feels like an old-school romantic comedy", they almost certainly mean "from the 1990s", and while that's true in bits and pieces, I have to say that Crazy Rich Asians feels even older-school than that: in a lot of ways, this feels like a throwback to the 1930s, the golden age of romcoms that offered the argument "you know what's awesome? Being filthy fucking rich".

No surprise: it's right there in the title, after all (which, when parsed in the film's dialogue, uses "crazy rich" as an adjectival phrase rather than "crazy" and "rich" as two separate adjectives. Either way, it is one of the year's worst film titles). The film, adapted by screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim from the 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan, is notionally a Meet the Parents-style tale of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a lifelong New Yorker with a smoking hot boyfriend from Singapore, Nick Young (Henry Golding) traveling to Asia for the first time ever to meet his family at a wedding, which mostly means meeting his harsh, judgmental mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). And it isn't not that, except that it's much, much more about what happens when a comfortable middle-class woman (Rachel is an economics professor at NYU) is suddenly pushed into the heart of the kind of upper class for which "upper class" is itself a euphemism. The Young family is one of the wealthiest in Singapore, it turns out, and most of Crazy Rich Asians consists of Rachel gawking at various expressions of that wealth and trying to decide if she definitely loves Nick well enough to put up with how shitty every other member of his family makes her feel.

There's a lot more going on under the hood than just "it is nice to have SO MUCH money", which helps to make the film a great deal more pleasant to watch than if it were nothing but lifestyle porn. For one thing, the entire cast, without exception (and there are a lot of characters to keep track of), is thoroughly charming, and if it's obviously the case that Yeoh is giving the film's best performance, that's not to say that anybody else is slacking off. Wu, in particular, is a terrific grounding presence, stunned by the lavishness around her but only sometimes in awe of it. For another, there are layers to the screenplay that aren't apparent from the simplest description of the plot: the generational conflict between more- and less-Westernised Asians (which is expressed in a particularly cinematic way that I admired: Nick's grandma, played by Lisa Lu, only ever speaks Chinese; Eleanor speaks Chinese-accented English that, if I'm not mistaken, Yeoh is exaggerating from her normal English-speaking voice; Nick and his cousins all sound British); an inter-class conflict between modest and vulgar expenditures of wealth; the gulf between Americans who think they're culturally Asian and Asians who think they're just crass Americans. I think it's not worth over-praising the film's brains, but I really hadn't expected any of this to show up except in a cosmetic way, and some of it actually ends up being extremely important.

To be sure, there's lifestyle porn here, and it's generally very satisfying. That's the other thing that the film shares with its '30s forebears: gorgeous sets and costumes, courtesy of production designer Nelson Coates and set decorator Andrew Baseman, and costume designer Mary E. Vogt. It's a plush-looking film pretty much from the second it leaves New York on an airplane with private cabins the size of a studio apartment, and the really great part of it is that it's not just one kind of plushness, either. There's the 21st Century cosmopolitan stuff, like the plane or a huge rooftop garden; there's a grandly conservative late-colonial vibe in the Youngs' ancestral manor, a massive Victorian pile in a huge wooded estate; there's wish-fulfillment fantasy consumerism; there's sheer gaudy glitz; and there's whatever it is that's going on in the wedding, a giddy combination of prim church wedding and elaborate fairy tale about water nymphs, which feels less like a religious ceremony than a musical number that forgot to include a song.

This is all a great fit for director John M. Chu, who is only ever a very lively filmmaker when he's working on some kind of spectacular sequence: well, Crazy Rich Asians has very little other than spectacle. It makes Singapore itself a visual feast, celebrating the sleek, clean modernity of one of the world's richest, highest-tech cities. The film is shiny, which is a different thing than being pretty, or even a different thing than being visually well-made: while the overall design is intoxicating, the hard, bright cinematography is not. Even so, the point comes across: this is a dazzling, overwhelming world, and not always overwhelming in a good way.

The perfect version of all this could have been tremendously gratifying, if unabashedly shallow; this isn't the perfect version of anything, though I suppose it's good enough. There's some slack editing and no real sense of pacing (this film has no earthly reason to be 120 minutes long). The opening scenes prior to Singapore are pushed through with inexcusably curt speed, leaving Rachel and Nick almost totally devoid of inner lives, or even curiosity (when Rachel learns that Nick, who she thought was dirt poor, is actually a scion of one of the world's richest families, she takes this with about the same alarm that another woman might respond to hearing "Honey... I actually don't like raisin bran". Also, I think "economics professor" is close to being the only profession that doesn't work if you want your main character to have never heard of the wealthiest family in Singapore, but that's a different complaint). And Nick, at least, never really recovers - his personality caps out more or less at "flawless abs" - though Wu's performance of Rachel gives her some sense of depth by the film's midway point.

At any rate, the film is more "fine" than anything else, but it is at times very fine indeed, and deeply satisfying in the way of a by-the-books romantic comedy that has found good character-based reasons for checking all of the boxes that need to be checked. It's an ice cream cone of a movie: the pleasures are simple and predictable, but also extremely rich. This is exactly the sort of movie that shows why we need more romcoms.

*Which, unlike most apparent pop culture trends that get passed around from one essayist to the next like brain chlamydia, actually happened; if I were the one doing the dating, I'd say that the shift happened in 2011, with Bridesmaids.