Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao, Shuzhen, Han Chen
Director: Lulu Wang
Writer: Lulu Wang
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Taking the time to see any small/indie movie in the theater is always a pleasure, depending on what’s being shown. Mostly it’s just about wanting to take a step back into relaxing from the big summer blockbusters and, hopefully, enjoying something that’s meant for a low-casual audience. The Farewell will tend to be one of those human stories that can be emotionally attached to anybody after it’s over.
What’s the Story: “Based on an actual lie”, Chinese-American Billi (Awkwafina) and her parents return to China after hearing the sudden news that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and the entire family decides not to tell her about the illness when she only has a few months to live. So, they gather together, using a wedding to get everyone, in hopes to say goodbye.
Out of all of the movies that I’ve heard from Sundance earlier this year, The Farewell was the one that I was interested in the most (the only one I’ve seen thus far). Writer/director Lulu Wang (Posthumous) took a true story that was based on her grandmother’s illness and turn into a drama, and she did it terrifically in one of the year’s best movies.
First off, I must talk about Awkwafina’s performance as Billi because this one of my favorite performances of the year so far that’s surprisingly toned-down for her. 2018 has been a pretty good year for her with her supporting comedic roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, respectively. But this was her first starring role, and it’s absolutely a memorable one at best to the point of actually believing she is a real person. Here, Billi is having a bit of a culture shocking when she’s hasn’t been back to China since she was little, and you just feel for her.
Besides her, Shuzhen as Nai Nai shouldn’t be overlooked when it’s a performance that reminds someone of their grandmother in terms of knowing they’re fine and cares about the family, even though she thinks she’s healthy. The relationship she has with Billi seems very close even though they’re from different countries as we see them talking on the phone.
Even when it’s a film that deals with a tough situation at hand, its job at finding the balance of drama and humor never ruins a moment. The times where it needs to be a comedy is subtle, and the audience knows when it’s appropriate to get a chuckle.
What I appreciated about the film is that it feels mature for a PG family drama, which I’m still shocked that it earned that rating. It’s able to have scenes of long conversations between the family with Chinese subtitles. Subtitles aren’t exactly my go-to, but it feels acceptable in here. Wang’s influence on the Chinese culture is fascinating as I didn’t know not telling someone that they have some kind it illness or will die is like a traditional thing over there. The slow pace wasn’t even bothering me since the story becomes investing.
Seeing how the family is in a tough situation where they can’t tell a family member that they’re dying is hard not only for Billi, but for us wanting to let that kind of stress out of our system. Maybe that’s why it can be difficult finding out somebody you’re close to is about to die, which is why one of the biggest fears is death.
If there were any problems that I had while watching The Farewell, I was honestly thought this would have an emotional gut-punch or something that would lead me to cry, but it didn’t happen. The moments where Awkwafina was feeling sad was when I was feeling the same way.
Could we see some love for The Farewell around Oscar season? It depends on what it can be considered for. I can see a nomination for Best Original Screenplay and hoping Shuzhen gets any recognition in the Supporting Actress category. It’s a personal story that’s able to be engaging and sweet at the same time that’s Wang is lucky to portray onscreen to make us feel moved and love our families even more.
If this is playing anywhere near your location, please go out of your way to seek this out.