Movie Review Monday: The Farewell
We departed from the typical blockbuster release this weekend to view a favorite from the Sundance Film Festival, The Farewell. This comedic drama was written and directed by Lulu Wang and is based off of a true story. The film follows a Chinese family who decide to hide a terminal illness from the matriarch of the family and plan a gathering for them to see her one last time. The film stars Awkwafina as Billi and Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai, Billi’s grandmother. The cast also includes Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Chen Han, and Aoi Mizuhara.
The film begins with Billi walking in New York while on the phone with her grandmother, Nai Nai. While they are evidently close, Nai Nai is in the hospital and neglects to tell Billi that she has been unwell. Meanwhile, Billi finds out that she has been rejected by the Guggenheim Fellowship but conceals this from Nai Nai and her parents. Billi is struggling financially but avoids talking about it with her family. While washing clothes at her parent’s house, she finds out that they are traveling back to the family home in Changchun, China for a wedding. It is soon revealed, though, that the wedding is merely a chance for them to see Nai Nai, who is unaware of her terminal lung cancer diagnosis. The family advises Billi not to come in order to hide the diagnosis from Nai Nai, but Billi travels to China regardless. Once there, Billi struggles with hiding this important information from her grandmother and wrestles with her return to the family home.
From the moment I watched the trailer, I knew that The Farewell was providing a truly unique premise. It did not disappoint, and I found the whole idea of concealing a terminal diagnosis from someone absolutely fascinating. This premise provides for several of the comedic moments of the film with the family working hard to change documents and test results to keep the secret intact. The movie is a mixture of comedy and drama, and it balances those two genres deftly. In addition to an interesting premise, the film touches on some intricacies of Chinese culture. It highlights traditional viewpoints through different family members as well as the experience for Chinese immigrants to other countries and cultures. These different ideologies provide for a lot of the conflict between the characters, and these disagreements unfold easily on the screen. The importance of family is essential to the story, and it provides both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments.
While the whole premise is interesting, it’s the performances that bring it all together. The film is anchored by Awkwafina, who gives an incredibly emotional performance as Billi. She hits her comedic moments easily when they are needed, but she also perfectly emotes the guilt and grief that define her character. Her moments on screen with Zhao Shuzhen’s Nai Nai are some of the best of the film. Shuzhen makes Nai Nai incredibly lovable as she cares for her family and insists on such things as them eating more and not worrying about her. She and Awkwafina make for a lovable pair that sell this story and all of the layers that it contains. The entire cast is fantastic, and the scenes with the whole family present are some of the most enjoyable and hilarious sequences.
Honestly, The Farewell is a deeply moving film that touches on some interesting topics and viewpoints. It reads as a raw, authentic story in every way from the cinematography to the performances. It might touch on uniquely Chinese mindsets throughout the story, but the themes are universally relatable. The film leaves the audience feeling deeply for every character in the story, and if The Farewell is in a theater near you, I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.