What extremes would you go to for the happiness of your family?
The Farewell is one of those delightful family affairs that actually plays on a universal level and a cultural one. It still manages to delight all audiences but does more for Asian representation in cinema then Crazy Rich Asians could have ever hoped for.
Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken.
This film manages a rare feat, to be droll, observational yet naturalistic and never really downbeat all at the same time. The Farewell is an ode to family, the natural separations that pull us apart and the events that for better or for worse that draw us back together.
With Lulu Wang settling into her second feature here we get something that is so incredibly humanistic and allows us to draw very universal feelings out of some very specific cultural references. It all moves quickly and has a genuine flow to it as it stays slight, allowing us to focus on the sadness of the moment but still appreciating the situation of the comedy that is all around this film.
As much as it all revels in the specificity of the culture, the film keeps the focus on the importance of family, certainly in the Asian cultures but across the board and it succeeds where Crazy Rich Asians fails because it stays honest as it revels in the beautiful awkwardness that is family.
The sensitivity and charm in how this story is told is downright shocking and while it certainly marks the arrival of a strong new voice in filmmaking it wouldn’t have been possible without a lead who really embraces the material and isn’t afraid to play inside the uncomfortable sadness’s of life that occasionally make us laugh.
Comediennes always manage to craft some uniquely compelling dramatic performances, Awkwafina who has spent her short career today in comedy really makes a statement here as an actor with some genuine range. She brings emotions like sadness, grief, frustration and angry to the forefront with ease while keeping the comedic beats at the ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice. The script understands the light and the seriousness of it all and she navigates like a pro in a performance that just may get talked about during awards season; it’s a quiet performance, but it’s just that damn good that you can’t look away from it.
Veteran character actors like Tzi Ma and Diane Lin but this movie begins and ends with Awkwafina as a woman who wants to embrace and support her family…while simultaneously slapping them upside the head for being awkward and illogical just like families do.
To deliver a generic quote and call The Farewell one of the sweetest movies of the year would be doing it a disservice. It’s actually one of the smartest movies of the year because much like death and much like family, there’s no right way to deal with it all. Grief, love, truth, sorrow and joy are all elements that come into play when dealing with not only the potential loss of a loved one but in how you deal with it inside your own family unit. There’s no right OR wrong answer, the key is making sure you embrace those ideals so that you can process it all properly.
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