Luckily, I hit the trifecta on this movie. I read subtitles really fast, they weren’t all flashbangs like Norwegian movies, and the director made sure all of them were in a text format that was visible on top of all the scenes. Most of the film is in Mandarin Chinese, which is a language star Awkwafina spoke a little of but not fluently, until she studied hard with a college student who also hit a jackpot being picked by her.
Awkwafina plays Billi, a student in New York City. Her parents live in the area, but most of the rest of the family still lives in China near her beloved nai nai, who has recently been diagnosed with end stage lung cancer. Grandmother has no idea, though. No one will tell her because in their society they believe in “taking on the emotional weight” of a cancer diagnosis and they go to great lengths to hide it from her. Billi has only seen her grandmother a few times since her parents emigrated when she was six, and even though she can’t afford it, she joins them for a family reunion camouflaged as a wedding so everyone can visit with her one last time. Billi spends most of the movie struggling with the contrast between the western values she mostly grew up with, and the traditional Chinese ones of her extended family. She wants to tell her nai nai, but until she does she has to suck it up like everyone else.
The story is a very personal one for writer/director Lulu Wang, whose own nai nai was diagnosed with cancer. She begins the film with a title card that says “based on an actual lie” and gives us a beautifully shot film that gives subtle clues through color schemes and lighting. All of the acting is great and gives the viewer all the feels, from love to humor to heartache. Awkwafina is perfect for this role as she struggles with feelings of guilt for lying to her nai nai, struggles to say goodbye without actually saying it, and struggles with her own truth by lying continually to her parents about her own life. The film doesn’t seem quite so layered until you think about it a bit, or maybe notice little things like the director scoring the film with European classical and American pop music to underscore Billi’s internal cultural war. It took me a while to notice as well that she has drawn all the women characters as by far the more emotionally tough people.
The Farewell is a deeply familial drama with large hints of comedy, and a great study on how deeply a family can love even after many years and thousands of miles of separation. I highly recommend seeing this , and I’m definitely looking forward to more films by Lulu Wang.’
THE FAREWELL Trailer (2019)