The Farewell masterfully is a gently humorous depiction of the good lie in action with a thoughtful exploration of how our cultural heritage does and doesn’t travel with us when we leave our homes.
After learning their beloved matriarch (Shuzhen Zhao) has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead of scheduling an impromptu wedding-reunion back in China.
Headstrong and emotional writer Billi (Awkwafina) rebels against her parents’ directive to stay in New York.
They join the family as they awkwardly attempt to rekindle old bonds, throw together a wedding that the only grandma is actually looking forward to and surreptitiously say their goodbyes.
Writer/director Lulu Wang imbues The Farewell invites us to share this extended clan’s joy and sorrow and to feel, for the length of this remarkable film, like a part of their family.
The Dichotomy of Chinese and American Values
The dichotomy of the situation is interesting as the family celebrates a wedding as well as hiding that Nai Nai is dying.
It sheds light on the Chinese belief as mentioned in the film) that “it’s not cancer that kills them. It’s fear.”
In a way, the movie challenges this traditional view and tackles the way we all view death.
Plus, Billi’s persistence in telling her grandmother shows the contrasts of western and eastern values – which is prominently mentioned throughout the film.
The Chinese-American fusion in Crazy Rich Asians was quite larger-than-life with an added razzmatazz.
Here, though, we see a very humble, authentic and modern representation of China.
A sequence exhibiting the family discussing the Chinese and American lifestyles and work prospects enhance the juxtapositions of both worlds.
This is a strand which every ethnic minority living abroad will be able to relate with.
Instant Connection with the Family
Constantly in the film, family members are conflicted with the dilemma of whether to inform her Nai Nai or not.
Despite a sad premise, Director Lulu Wang presents quite a comical, poignant and somewhat uplifting narrative.
The idiosyncratic virtues of each family member, from the bride/groom to the grandmother, these quirky qualities tickle the funny bones and are effective.
Within a few minutes into the film, we as the audience feel welcomed and seem like a visceral part of the family.
The scenes between Billi and the grandmother are quite amiable to watch. In fact, there are times which bring tears to the eye.
It is so refreshing and progressive to see her advising the granddaughter that it is good to be independent rather than following the status quo.
Awkwafina is absolutely first-rate as the main lead. She is effervescent as Billi and presents the character as organically as possible.
Lulu Wang as a Director
Wang’s directorial vision is ace.
Unlike other filmmakers, she avoids pulling on the heartstrings during the emotional quotients and this subtlety works effectively.
Her choice of camera shots is impressive.
The zooming out of the building apartments and then the poster shot of smiling, optimistic baby, signify Billi’s inhibitions and insecurities.
In fact, it almost seems like a coming-of-age/homecoming experience for Billi. There is a very neat and gradual build-up to her character.
Whilst dealing with the unfortunate news of her grandmother, she also battles her demons and rejections in life.
It is almost the grandmother’s ailing is almost parallel to the decay of Billi’s childhood, which was her safe haven.
However, it unnecessarily takes a bit too long for the movie to reach the conclusion, when it could’ve ended at least 10 minutes earlier.
Also, it is a bit surprising that even the doctor does not really tell the grandma about her serious illness.
As such, the second-half seems slightly prolonged, though the viewer never really gets bored.
Overall, The Farewell is a poignant yet uplifting film that leaves the audience smiling and crying at the same time.
In addition to the poignant and philosophical aspect, it provides an eye-opening contrast between Eastern and Western values.
Most importantly, the universal themes of belonging, family, traditions and hope will appeal to all audiences.
A must watch!