Starring: Awkwafina, Zhao Shu-zhen, Diana Lin, Tzi Ma
Screenplay & Direction by Lulu Wang
A deeply moving story of a family spread over continents yet closely tied together with love and familial bonds. As the beloved grandmother, or Nai-Nai, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the family fabricates a marriage in the family so that they are all able to return to China and spend time with Nai-Nai without having to tell her about her disease. The Chinese believe that fear of a malady is often worst than the malady itself. Into this cultural setting comes ‘Billi’ (Alwafina) with her American values, and the clash of cultures that ensues is subtly written in the movie, and makes for a rare watch.
It is very seldom that we see Asian movies getting significant recognition in Hollywood: this was the first Mandarin-language film that I have ever seen being shown at cinemas where I live. I originally watched the film a few years ago, when it was making the rounds at the awards shows of early 2020. However, I recently watched it again and I was just blown away. This was a big change from other recently released movies with predominantly Asian casts, such as ‘Parasite’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, where tension is built up through lots of action. The Farewell, on the other hand, was able to beautifully portray the difference between the family’s and the grandmother’s views, in a series of funny, poignant and personal scenes. It is a heart-wrenching story of love, and the imminence and inevitability of death.
I was raised with traditional Asian values, as Billi (the main character) was in the production. Therefore, certain cultural norms and taboos which were explored in the film were very poignant to me, and I felt I was able to resonate with the actions the family took to protect Nai-Nai from hearing of her illness. There were moments where just a look shared between Billi and her grandmother were so much more meaningful than any script a screenwriter could produce.
The acting was generally excellent, but in particular the acting of Billi (Awkwafina) stood out. Wow! She is generally known for ‘Nora in Queens’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, where she plays characters who are often quite one-dimensional and are purely included in productions as a form of comic relief. But this movie has definitely cemented her position as a serious actress. She perfectly encapsulated the contrast between the traditional ideologies believed by her family in China, and the modern ideologies she has immersed herself in in the US.
Whilst many may believe that long, drawn out scenes often make films slower and less interesting, extended scenes in this movie were what really made me love it. The most poignant scene for me was the final one, where Billi and her parents leave the grandmother behind, and we can see each character’s emotional reaction with the backdrop of China passing them by. It was a perfect ending.
There is no way that I can adequately describe how phenomenal this film is - you must watch it for yourself. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it was definitely mine.
A well deserved 10/10.