Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In Defense of Eleanor Young

I saw a number of pieces where Michelle Yeoh said that she didn't want to be the villain mom in "Crazy Rich Asians".  I think this interview expresses it most succintly, but many of the pieces that riffed on it, boiled it down to Yeoh said she wouldn't be a stereotypical mean mom, where if you look at what she said, she said she thinks of Eleanor as a dragon mom, rather than a tiger mom.  
I am not at all here to argue with Michelle Yeoh. As someone who read the book and saw the movie, I do think that movie Eleanor is expressed a little more explicitly, partly due to time constraints, but while there absolutely are scenes in the movie that do not exist in the book, movie Eleanor is still book Eleanor.  
By the way, yes, I cannot go any further without spoiling both the book and the movie.  
I listened to the book in audio, and it is almost 14 hours, to give you a sense of the level of cutting the movie was doing.  Now of course, movies have visuals, and can do montages, and all sorts of things.  But as we see, Nick has asked Rachel to come to Singapore for his best friend's wedding.  And his mother discovers this at Bible study.  Now, it's possible to view that as an amusing quirk of the speed of gossip in the community.  But let's also look at this, Nick has been dating this woman for some time, enough that he is ready to take her to meet his family and propose, but he has told Rachel almost nothing about his family (other than Astrid).  And his mother found out about this woman - that she existed, that they were dating, that he was bringing her home - from someone else.  
And so, from Eleanor's perspective, Rachel is part of this pretend life he has been living in America, the one where he's a cool professor.  And as the movie points out a little more explicitly, when Nick tells Colin his plan, Nick hasn't figured out anything else other than he wants to marry her.  He hasn't figured out where they will live, hasn't even ever told her his ultimate life plan was to move back to Singapore.  He tells Rachel that his mother loves him so much that she let him be raised by his grandmother so he would be the favorite and he hasn't ever thought through the implications of that.  Eleanor is from a respected family, and Su Yi - this many years later - still considers her not a great match for her son. Rachel wasn't raised in Asia, isn't rich, is basically, even less acceptable than Eleanor, and so yes, Rachel will ruin the years of work that Eleanor has put into making Nick the favorite.  But Eleanor also knows that if they still don't accept her, they will never come around on Rachel.  
So, while the mahjong scene in the movie does not occur in the book, it basically demonstrates what the book says in more subtle ways throughout.  Nick can propose to Rachel and pretend the where they will live, and whose family will accept them is all details to be worked out later, but it isn't.  Rachel could be like Nick and accept and not worry.  Or she could look at the possible outcomes and see that none of them lead to happiness.  The concern is as the American raised Asian, Rachel won't worry about doing anything but what will make her happy, but actually it is Nick who is doing that.  
So, I agree that dragon mom is a fair assessment.  I was #teamRachel throughout both the book and movie, but that doesn't mean I didn't see that Eleanor had a point. Nick hadn't thought this through, he hadn't thought about what he was doing to either himself or to Rachel.  
Movie Eleanor comes around in a way that book Eleanor does not, not in the first book at least. But that doesn't make movie Eleanor any tamer.  I like to think that wordless scene where she shows up at Nick's hotel room stands in for a long conversation where she reminds Nick what he may be giving up.  Because Eleanor is right, Nick has been pretending his professor life is all he needs, but, as has happened with many discussions of late about generational wealth, it's easy to do that, when you can also hop on a first class flight home anytime you want without worrying about the cost.