Release Date: July 19, 2019
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, and Jiang Yongbo
Director: Lulu Wang
Studio: Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pascal Pictures
Distributor: Sony Pictures Release
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The Farewell is something so sweet and singular: a slice of life dramedy. Writer/director Lulu Wang brings us a the story of a true lie and how a family worked their way through it.
Awkwafina plays Billi, a young Chinese-American who learns terrible news. Her Nai Nai has cancer and her family is going to throw a wedding to cover for everyone getting back together to see her. What follows is a touching jaunt through the nature of familial obligations and individual desires.
Do they tell the grandma to allow her to say good bye?
Do they keep up the charade so she doesn’t have to deal with the stress and anxiety of her impending death?
Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8) does an amazing job. Her face expressing the complex cocktail of emotions – distress, joy, sadness, frustration. The rest of the cast do a fantastic job of this as well. Billi’s dad and uncle, played by Tzi Ma and Jiang Yongbo, respectively, go through the same sort of internal struggle of bottling up their grief to spare their mother’s feelings, though in doing so making a bit of a mess of themselves.
Zhao Shuzhen may take the cake with Nai Nai, a joyous, rambunctious old woman who is set in having the right and proper wedding for her grandson. She is loving and commanding in turns, but almost always with a smile.
The Farewell is delightfully small in scope, intimate, and grounded. The drama plays out well, never feeling stretched to the point of….disbelief? There are plenty of moments where in the hands of other lesser directors, or Hollywood in general maybe, that the scene would be flipped. It wouldn’t be a cousin getting married, it would be our main character Billi. When she meets a handsome doctor who speaks English, she’d fall in love and learn the wisdom of her Nai Nai.
But that’s not the point of The Farewell. It’s a story built on a true lie and that’s where it’s value is – in telling an story that feels close and (for me) a look into another culture we don’t often see.
The Farewell is playing in limited release now.