What a piece of humanistic art this is. Director Lulu Wang‘s “The Farewell” forces no emotions or thoughts onto the viewer. We are taken on a rollercoaster of sadness and missed opportunity. A fake marriage with a loved one dying is not a prototypical storyline of hope. Yet coming out on the other side, how does one not smile with a family comedy that celebrates life.
Yes, lots of obtuse adjectives there. All of which are well deserved. Let us go from the beginning. The first thing on screen of this semi-autobiographical film are the words “based on a true lie”.
Our main character is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in the harsh financial reality that is New York City. Her parents Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and Jian (Diana Lin) moved away from their home town of Changchun, China with the desire for their daughter to have more opportunities in America.
A one-hundred percent U.S. citizen on paper, Billi has maintained a deep connection with her grandmother back home who she affectionately calls Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao). The two often speak on the phone with the younger never having fully taken the elder’s advice and the elder never fully understanding the high paced lifestyle Billi is living. But it is a positive back and forth between them nonetheless.
News travels from relatives still living in China that Nai Nai has terminal cancer with little time left. Devastated, Billi and her parents hit the next flight across the world to be by her side. Prepping for an emotional shock fest they arrive and everything is all smiles, as though it is a mild cold.
Haiyan’s brother Haibin (Yangbo Jiang) is all about the cover up to avoid any talk related to death. As far as Nai Nai is concerned, everything will be just fine. His aloof son Hao Hao (Han Chen) is dating a hottie from Japan, a relationship that is going nowhere. To keep up appearances until Nai Nai dies an arranged fake marriage is set in motion for her little grandson Hao. Billi being the “foreigner” is of course furious over the lie and must decide whether or not to bite her tongue in order to keep grandma happy as she inches towards her death bed.
Welp, that sounds like a real heart warmer now doesn’t it. Turns out, it sure is. Writer and director Wang finds this odd sense of humor in the smallest corners of the story. The initial conversation with the doctor when Nai Nai is diagnosed comes to mind. An awkward family reunion dinner with everyone tip-toeing. And don’t get me started on the wedding photographer, I’ll let you discover that gem of a sequence. Wang never hunts to find humor in a shitty situation and instead bows her head by excepting the old adage ‘it is what it is’. This is a lie that everyone involved is in on even if they do not admit it. The important part is being with loved ones.
After co-starring as the most annoying character in last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” (why that movie was so popular continues to allude me), Awkwafina is excellent in this performance. She hits all the gamuts from funny to sad to angry to unsure. A particular scene involving a piano where she says nothing is unbelievable. Best piece of acting I have seen so far this year.
Several critics have described “The Farewell” as a fish out of water story. In a sense, yes it is. But it is no different than going to your home town in say Alabama after your parents moved away for Colorado when you were little. There are certain nuances based on Asian lifestyles, but this is not Chinese culture exclusive at all. The themes are universal. Coping with loss and tragedy while maintaining a sense of humor is an impossible thing to tell any individual how to do. From its own unique perspective, “The Farewell” does it in the best way that it knows how.
Suck Factor: 1out of 7 (7 means your movie really SUCKS!)
Written by Byrd
The SUCK FACTOR, how it works. We have flipped the rating system upside down. If a film is classic, it gets a 0. Meaning that movie has 0 SUCKS. If a film is complete trash you must avoid at all costs, it gets a 7, meaning this movie really SUCKS!