THE FAREWELL – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Family, and how we deal with them, is a universal theme. That’s why the new film The Farewell by writer/director Lulu Wang will be so appealing to such a broad audience. Whatever your nationality, the true story of Ms. Wang’s Chinese family will pull at your heartstrings. It’s about the lie that changed her family forever. In fact, the film begins with a title card that reads “based on an actual lie.”
The Farewell tells the story of Chinese-born, U.S. raised Billi (Awkwafina). She, along with her mother Jian (Diana Lin) and father Haiyan (Tzi Ma), return to Changchun, China. They have been told that Billi’s beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), is ill. She’s been given mere weeks to live. As some Chinese traditions dictate, the family has decided not to tell Nai Nai to assure her happiness for the time she has left. Instead, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding. Uniting family members scattered abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family proprieties and her own heartbreak of the impending loss of her grandmother, she finds there is still a lot to celebrate. This is a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child and to experience first-hand her grandmother’s wondrous spirit that she has known mostly over phone calls. Billi discovers the family ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken.
When the director Lulu Wang was in town for our screening of this precious film, I got to ask her a question. Why did she choose rap star and comedic actress Awkwafina to play her in this most dramatic lead? She responded by telling me that Awkwafina, who is known for such funny rap songs as My Vag and New York Bitche$ was not her first choice. Awkwafina had only done the comic foil parts in the mega-hit Crazy Rich Asians and that same year’s Ocean’s 8 with no dramatic roles under her belt. The director said that it was her producer that presented the idea of casting Awkwafina in the lead. When they met, Awkwafina told Ms. Wang that she’d been raised by her grandmother. The connection between Billi and her grandmother in the film really touched her. She fought for the role and a chance to show she could do drama. Ms. Wang was so impressed with Awkwafina that she said they tailored the part to her. Writing in the script the reason why Billi was not fluent in Chinese because Awkafina has trouble with the language in real life. After seeing this ingenious film, I hope Awkwafina gets offered more dramatic scripts. So she can show off her formidable dramatic chops as well as her proven comedic gifts.
The Farewell may well be the Best Movie of the Year. It’s a heartfelt celebration that masterfully interweaves a gentle, humorous depiction of the “good lie” in action with a richly moving story of how a family can unite in times of trouble. I give this marvelous film an A+ rating, and I hope you will see it with your family this summer.
Directed by Lulu Wang
Written by Lulu Wang
Selig Rating A+
Running Time 1hr 40 min
Drama / Comedy
Limited to wide release July 26th AMC North Park, The Angelika Film Centers Dallas & Plano
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.