Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) stars as Billi, a young twenty-something living in New York and far away from her extended family in China, more specifically her adorable Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao). When Billi visits mother Jian (Diana Lin) and father Haiyan (Tzi Ma) there seems to be something off, a quiet tone that immediately makes her think something is wrong. That's because they've found out that Nai Nai has cancer, with a diagnosis of only a short time left to live. The plan becomes to not tell Nai Nai that she is dying, but take a trip back to China for one big party, a fake wedding specifically, to gather all of the family together, secretly celebrating the life of Nai Nai.
I could go deeper into what happens after, when the family arrives to China, but that would ruin the core purpose of The Farewell. What I really want to talk about is the fantastic success of writer/director Lulu Wang. It's not just that Wang has made an honest film, drawing from her own personal experience of her grandmother's diagnosis and family not telling, but because she finds a way to blend the humor and emotion of such a situation. The Farewell is not just heartwarming, but it is hilarious. Laughs arrive in spurts, with Billi delivering a brutal honesty, which reveals the generational gap that often stifles connections between the youth and their elders. Not to mention, the wedding scene will have you smiling from ear to ear, and will definitely want to attend a wedding that night. All of it seems worth it, because seeing Nai Nai's happiness makes the family feel right again.
The Farewell is a great film, and the praise belongs primarily to the performances by Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao. Both show a natural ability to be authentic with their emotions, while introducing American audiences to these two fantastic actors and their range. You will hear me shouting till I lose my voice about how much Zhao should be nominated for a best supporting actor oscar. And underneath the two great performances, is a story that is equally enlightening. Lying is something these days that humans seem to always do. Lying to make ourselves feel better, lying to hide the truth from our children, lying to never face the reality of a situation. That is a human trait that is not being broken, no matter how many times we say that it is wrong. For Billie and her family, lying becomes a choice to avoid the truth about life. Nai Nai is the heart and soul of this family, a darling spirit that lights up every scene she walks into. If lying to her keeps her happy, naive to her mortality, then maybe this is the right choice? Maybe lying does have a purpose.
In the end, The Farewell is a rousing success. Tears will be shed by audiences, families will come together with a bond in seeing this film. Above all of it is the arrival of fantastic artists, making a movie about family, reminding us how important it is to connect with those around us. Lulu Wang opens a vein of experience and pours it out for us to be a part of. We are all better for it. The Farewell leaves a lasting impression on all of us.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: THE FAREWELL
STARRING: AWKWAFINA; TZI MA; SHUZHEN ZHAO; DIANA LIN
DIRECTED BY: LULU WANG
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
It's not hyperbole to claim that The Farewell is a perfect film. It has the performances and the honesty that you want in a story. It has characters, some that will become embedded into our minds for a long time, especially since you will see yourself and your own family in every frame. It does not matter where you are from, or who you are, you will relate to The Farewell. I know I did, thinking about my mother, my family, and the relationships we have. Director Lulu Wang has made a film that is personal to her and it is far and away one of the best films of 2019. The Farewell is about a lie, but it's one big beautiful lie.