The Farewell (2019)

Director: Lulu Wang

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Screenplay: Lulu Wang

100 mins. Rated PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking.

 

I’ve been looking forward to The Farewell for half a year, ever since hearing about it from someone who saw it at Sundance. I’m so happy to have been able to seek it out finally, and you need to do the same.

When Billi (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s Eight) discovers that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal lung cancer, she immediately wants to fly back to China to be with her, but her father Haiyan (Tzi Ma, Arrival, Skyscraper) and mother Jian (Diana Lin, Australia Day, TV’s The Family Law) advise her not to. They tell Billi that Nai Nai does not know she is sick and the family does not plan on telling her. Instead, everyone is flying to China for a family wedding, which has been set up as a cover for everyone to get their goodbyes in, but Billi’s parents think she is too emotional and she will not be able to keep up the lie. Billi decides to fly to China anyway in an effort to spend some time with Nai Nai before she passes, but she struggles to come to terms with the lie and the way her family goes about keeping the secret.

The Farewell moves along a little loosely in order to focus on moments of the days leading up to the wedding rather than big plot points. It’s a deeply moving character piece from writer/director Lulu Wang (Posthumous, Touch), and it is indeed based on an actual lie from Wang’s experiences. It’s an incredibly interesting look at culture and familial bonds across generations and traditions. I found it to be a very melancholic and comedic look at these bonds, never sinking into depression but also not forcing comedy. The funny moments in the story come from the interesting multi-dimensional characters and their strained relationships.

Awkwafina gives a career-best performance as Billi. The way she juggles sadness and joy while dealing with her own internal struggle is so powerful. Her chemistry with Nai Nai is so beautifully created through Wang’s writing and executed by the actresses quite well.

I adore Tzi Ma, and he really shines here. I really enjoyed his connection to daughter Billi in that he knows the importance of this lie but also involuntarily struggles with keeping the façade of joy that the wedding should invite. He is amazing in the film and I hope he can get some awards recognition this year.

The rest of the supporting cast is exemplary here, especially Zhao Shuzhen and Jiang Yongbo (Nie Rongzhen, Caught in the Web). Everyone is so well-cast in the film and each of them gets their moment to shine in the movie.

The Farewell is definitely in my Top 10 of the year so far. I cannot wait to see it again and to show it to as many people as I can. This examination of family and culture is so beautifully constructed and so watchable. The movie just cruises by and brought me tears and laughter at several points, sometimes even at the same time. This is a huge recommendation.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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