The Farewell

September 4, 2019

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

An authentic take on family, memory and identity, The Farewell is ultimately a sensitive and well-honed portrait of coming to grips with cultural identity.
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The Farewell

Anthony Frajman
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Director: Lulu Wang
Cast:

Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao, Diana Lin, Han Chen, X Mayo

Distributor: Roadshow
Released: September 5, 2019
Running Time: 100 minutes
Worth: $15.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

An authentic take on family, memory and identity, The Farewell is ultimately a sensitive and well-honed portrait of coming to grips with cultural identity.

Some families live out their lives with various secrets. Some are undone by them. Lulu Wang’s real-life inspired The Farewell starts by telling us the film is “based on an actual lie”.

Burgeoning Chinese-American writer Billi (rapper, comedienne, actor Awkwafina, Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians) lives in Brooklyn, still close to and in daily contact with her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao), who lives in Changchun, China.

Whilst Billi left her birthplace at age 6 to emigrate with her parents, her dear grandma, (referred to as Nai Nai in Mandarin), remains a vital and constant role model in her life. Through Skype and other technologies, Billi can be continuously connected to her Nai Nai.

Concerned with everything that happens in her grandmother’s existence, Billi is alarmed to find that the elderly woman is diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer, and all family members have been told – except the patient themselves – her Nai Nai. This is custom for Billi’s family in China.

Despite having less than 4 months to live, according to Chinese tradition, informing the sick of their diagnosis only hastens their demise.

For the first time in 25 years, everyone in the extended family journeys to China to send off the adored matriarch, using the pretence of a suddenly announced marriage between Billi’s uncle Hao Hao (Han Chen) and his Japanese girlfriend, Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara), who he has been dating for three months.

This is the drawn-from-experience premise which underpins The Farewell, the autobiographical sophomore feature from Chinese-American filmmaker Wang (Posthumous).

Packed with personal details from Wang’s experience emigrating to America with Chinese parents – such as a true anecdote involving being given a community piano to practice on arrival, The Farewell finds a balance between the fictionalisation of its scenario and the vividness of Wang’s experience. (The director’s actual great-aunt, Hong Lu, plays herself in the production.)

Conjuring an intimate and delicate atmosphere which largely doesn’t feel forced or laboured, the film swings effectively between broad comedy and earnestly quiet moments.

Billi’s complex experience of revisiting her homeland is deftly captured by cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano and production designer Yong Ok Lee – placing viewers at the centre of Billi’s return home – and director Wang’s memories. Billi’s apprehension and delight of seeing her maternal grandmother – in her home country, where she hadn’t stepped foot in years – under unexpected, and false circumstances, is one of the film’s many delights.

An authentic take on family, memory and identity, The Farewell is ultimately a sensitive and well-honed portrait of coming to grips with cultural identity.

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