Review: The Farewell
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is one of those rare films that’s nearly impossible to dislike. It’s so moving and endearing that it’s guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser. Not only is the film significant for its authentic representation of Chinese culture, but it also provides a riveting contrast between family traditions in the East and the West. Yet there’s something so fundamentally universal about it that anyone can identify with it.
Wang is both the writer and director of the semi-autobiographical film and Awkwafina stars as Billi, the fictionalized version of Wang. After playing some off-the-wall characters in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8, Awkwafina delivers a remarkably subdued performance in The Farewell. It’s also irrefutably her best performance to date.
Billi is a Chinese-American woman living in New York who learns that her beloved grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Billi’s family decides to spare their Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) the details of her diagnosis. Instead, the family stages an impromptu wedding for one of Billi’s cousins in order to get the family together to see Nai Nai one last time. Billi’s mother Jian (Diana Lin) dissuades her from attending the wedding because Billi “can’t hide her emotions” and if she goes Nai Nai will find out the truth. Billi flies to China regardless. What follows is a thoughtful blend of poignant moments and heartwarming humor.
Billi’s return to China highlights the cultural differences between the East and the West, particularly when it comes to the idea of family. Billi believes it’s wrong to lie to Nai Nai, but everyone assures her that this is a common practice among Chinese families.The exploration of different family values is just one of the many things that makes The Farewell feel so universal. This isn’t a film about grief, it’s about what it means to be a family.
It’s a story that Wang is used to telling, she even shared it in an episode of This American Life prior to making the film. It goes without saying that it’s a story that’s close to her heart, and that feeling of love permeates throughout the film itself. Her screenplay is brimming with authenticity. The characters feel genuine and their family bond is immensely relatable. The chemistry between the actors also adds to the authenticity of the film. It feels as though we’re watching a real family interact with one another. Anna Franquesa Solano’s cinematography also adds to this feeling because her camerawork is simultaneously intimate and subtle, mirroring the nature of the film itself. Despite sharing such a personal story and tackling emotional topics, The Farewell successfully refrains from becoming melodramatic or trite.
The Farewell is impressive for its ability to feel universal despite telling such a specific, personal story. It’s also impressive for its ability to juggle comedy and tragedy while still remaining age-appropriate. It’s truly a satisfying film for all audiences. Awkwafina delivers a striking lead performance that proves she’s capable of playing more than quirky supporting characters. With one of the best films of the year, Lulu Wang solidifies the fact that she’s a filmmaker to watch out for. The Farewell is a fantastic reminder of the importance of family and how strong that bond remains no matter how far apart we are.
The Farewell hits theaters on July 12, 2019.