Release Date: July 12, 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao
The opening title card of the film begins with a simple phrase: Based on an actual lie. Most movies based on true events normally open with a precursor indicating such, and Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is everything but a lie. With an incredible ensemble cast portraying real life characters in real life dilemmas in both bold and nuanced ways, The Farewell delightfully succeeds in drawing out real life in the most sheer and intimate of ways.
In a revelatory role to be remembered come Oscar season, Awkwafina stars in this family drama as Billi, the sole granddaughter of Nai Nai (portrayed in grand measure by Shuzhen Zhao), coming at odds with culture, personal conviction, and family obligation. Throughout the film, we see her struggle regarding whether to disclose to or withhold information from Nai Nai on her dire prognosis. Family members who have agreed to withhold telling Nai Nai her fate work together to make sure any leak of truth is quickly accounted for and patched up with swift and plausible explanation. Understandably, as suggested by one of the family members early on in the film, when a person has cancer, they die: not by mere physical action, but in spirit as well. The family decides to hold off from telling the truth to avoid snuffing out what may remain of Nai Nai’s hope for life. Instead, a set up is put into play affording the family to gather together for a final time under the pretense that a marriage is to be had.
The Farewell is a film that flourishes with richly written characters and succeeds on its performances from everyone involved. With great care and attention to detail and a poised outlook that is kind, funny, forgiving, and cathartic, The Farewell joins the ranks of classic families seeking to understand life’s more challenging servings. With a simplistic yet intimate approach to the technical, the film radiates with color and rich textures that illuminate and breathe life into the action. Still wide shots of streets, shops, and rooms allow for action and human drama to fill the space with great emotional impact. With it all said and done, we become a part of the family as we spend our time watching and observing in moments seemingly mundane.
My personal experience watching this movie brought my own attention to family; I imagine a movie like this will no doubt do the same for others. I can recall both fond and sobering memories of my own grandparents, particularly my late grandfather. This past February, he passed away and I was present with him during his final moments. While watching the film, memories brought me back to being in a 92 Dodge Caravan looking out through large windows as my family and I approached or left his home. There he would be standing behind a great big metal gate with a menthol cigarette dangling from his mouth, pinched between lips as he would work on the lock and linked chain. Like it was yesterday, I can see him waving us goodbye on our way back home or waiting to greet us. I miss those moments, and like these moments, our sense of being present becomes heightened and more meaningful when taken into thoughtful consideration.
The Farewell is a masterpiece. Incredibly thoughtful, heartfelt, and wildly funny, and with enough force to move you to tears whether sad or brimming from laughter, it will remind you to make the most of any moment count with those you love.
Rating: 4/4 Stars