Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen
Director: Lulu Wang
Coming out of Sundance, The Farewell was one of the movies I heard the most buzz about. An A24 distributed, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes having, Sundance darling is almost guaranteed to be a good movie, but the question is just how good could this movie be. While not the type of movie that most people, myself included, would usually watch, there’s something uniquely charming about The Farewell that is lacking from almost every other movie. The Farewell captures this authentic look into a foreign culture while still maintaining the level of intimacy and emotion to make it one of the strongest films this year.
The film follows Billi (Awkwafina), a young Chinese-American struggling to find her calling in New York. When her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Billi and her family travel to China to visit Nai Nai, but none of them can tell Nai Nai of her diagnosis as that would cause misery for her in her final days. This causes a clash between Billi’s American identity which wants to tell Nai Nai and spend her final moments with her and Billi’s Chinese heritage which puts the happiness of the family above the happiness of the individual. The Farewell is the type of movie that really makes you reevaluate the way you think about your mortality and puts the question of death in the front of everyone’s mind. The Farewell is essentially the film version of the question, “Would you like to know when you die or how you would die?” After watching this movie, the correct answer is neither, because both outcomes are depressing and the time spent worrying about your ultimate demise could be spent living your life with the people you love. The bonds shown in this movie are aided by just how real the relationships feel and just how authentic the reactions are between each family member. This is especially apparent in Awkwafina’s performance, as she takes on a far more complex role than we have ever seen her act in before. Normally Awkwafina has held more comedic roles in movies like Crazy Rich Asians, but this more dramatic shift showed just how much talent she has. She uses that humor background to help add a much-needed level of joy spliced between moments of true grief and love. I don’t know if this movie is based on Lulu Wang’s real life, but this is the type of movie that nobody would make unless they truly cared about the story being told. Very rarely does a movie reflect on the themes of family and death in such an intimate way like The Farewell and that level of touch and care elevates the movie to a level that not many can reach. A carefully balanced tale of both the happiness that life brings and the grief that it ends with, The Farewell tells a story in 98 minutes that most movies could not tell in a lifetime. The Farewell is a breath of fresh air to a genre that has been typically formulaic and trite and shows us that sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to find something truly spectacular.
Overall, The Farewell accurately displays what is important in our lives and how we can make the most of our time on Earth. If you can get past the Mandarin language that’s at the forefront of the movie, then you’ll find a movie that transcends language and cultural barriers and serves as a landmark for those to work off of in the future. A24 is known for almost exclusively distributing universally acclaimed movies and it looks like The Farewell is yet another example of why they pay for the best.
Overall Score: 8.5/10