The Farewell is a fantastic movie that feels real and authentic in every moment. It employs a steady hand behind the camera and some of the best performances of last year in front of the camera. It is a wonderful little movie that is deeply rewarding to the viewer.
The Farewell follows Billi Wang a young Chinese-American woman who is living in New York when she finds out that her beloved grandma Nai Nai has cancer and only has a short time left to live. Nai Nai lives in China and everyone in the family agrees not to tell Nai Nai about her diagnosis. They decide to put together a hasty wedding as a cover so that the whole family can get together and say goodbye to Nai Nai. Billi and her parents travel to China even though everyone is convinced Billi will not be able to control her emotions and spill the secret to Nai Nai.
The movie is endlessly fascinating in its depiction of the cultural differences between the family. It’s pointed out repeatedly how in America hiding a diagnosis would be illegal, whereas in China it is common and seen as a merciful thing. The family will bear the burden of the truth and allow the ill to live their life free from concern about their illness. The idea of the individual vs the family is also addressed in a deeply poignant scene between Billi, her father, and her uncle. In China each individual is simply a part of a greater whole and they must subject themselves to the will of the family.
These differences in perspective are beautifully illustrated by the main character Billi and her position as an outsider. She is played by Awkwafina. She is a revelation here. She is convincing in every moment. Her performance hits every right note and never falters. There are so many wonderfully written and executed scenes, but one in particular that stands out is when she breaks down describing her family’s move to America when she was a child. It could very easily fall into the “Oscar Clip” style of over acting that so many performers simply devour, but she doesn’t. She plays the truth of the moment and is more deeply affecting that most performances of last year. The fact she wasn’t nominated for best actress is astonishing. She deserved it.
The supporting players are all utterly convincing in every moment. This feels like a true family unit that has years of history behind every moment. Especially effective are Tzi Ma as Billi’s father and Jiang Yongbo as Billi’s uncle. These two are brilliant. Jiang Yongbo has the bigger moments. He delivers the great speech about individuals vs family. He also has a stunning speech during the wedding that tears the heart out. But Tzi Ma has a quiet and steady grounding force that supports and enables everything going on around him. He is fantastic in a smaller yet essential role. Zhao shu-zhen plays Nai Nai and is absolutely delightful. She is full of joy and love and exudes positivity. She holds it all together. The last one that must be mentioned is Diana Lin as Billi’s mother. She has a tightrope to walk as a performer. She could easily fall into the strident and uncaring mother. She could easily become a petulant and indignant martyr. She has so many wonderful moments conveyed with her glance or glare. She conveys the reality and inner life of her character beautifully. Everyone in this movie is deserving of praise. This is a large cast with great performances across the board.
So much credit for this film goes to Lulu Wang who wrote and directed the film. It’s based on her actual experiences with her grandmother. The film feels so real because it was written from truth, but also because of the way Wang holds her camera and holds her shots. She allows the moments to play out. She allows her actors room to play. She has an almost invisible camera style that just enhances the reality of the actions on screen. Wang has also created some incredible scenes using language. There is an amazing scene in which Nai Nai is in the hospital and the doctor speaks English. Billi and the doctor has a conversation in English about Nai Nai’s health in front of her. Some people understand what they are saying, some don’t. This scene is brilliantly executed and absolutely riveting to watch. Scenes like this are scattered throughout the film. How we communicate or don’t communicate is an essential idea in this movie. It is so much fun to see.
This film is billed as a comedy, and while it can be funny, it is a lot more than a comedy. It’s also not entirely a drama. It is deeply effective, but it isn’t all tears and dragging the audience through the hell of the situation. This is a fun movie to watch. It is a joyous movie to take in. It is a movie that everyone should check out. It is worth it. Watch this movie.
This is my cup of tea. – A+