The Farewell (2019)

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Food: Because nothing is better than a theme, we decided to eat at Han’s Dynasty for dinner, complete with dumplings, lo mein and cold noodles. I also enjoyed a fruity cocktail. This place is famed and always busy and bustling, but worth it. The noodles are hearty and greasy, just like you’d want them to be, and the atmosphere is simple and cozy. We were at the East Village location.

Film: Lulu Wang, Chinese-American director and writer, starts this film with the admittance: “Based off an actual lie.” This, first, seems sardonic, but quickly it is clear that there is a lie that is central to this story, which is common practice in Chinese culture, and this story is actually based off of her experience with having to abide by this lie herself. This story is personal, and the film is full of sentiments and details that bring the truth in her story to life.

Awkwafina, rapper and actor on the rise, who had recently showcased her talents in the big pictures, ‘Ocean’s 8’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ has the opportunity here to lead with a softer side. She plays Billi, a young woman raised in New York, after leaving China with her parents at the age of 6. She is an independent and quirky striving writer. The film starts with her chatting casually and sweetly with her grandmother, Nai Nai, on the phone while she saunters through the city, and the closeness of their relationship is evident in their banter.

While visiting with her parents, spending time at their house to do her laundry, she suspects something is off, and eventually she receives the somber news that Nai Nai is dying of cancer. The entire extended family agrees that it is best not to tell Nai Nai  the news because they do not want her to spend her final days in fear or sadness. Although, this may seem peculiar or even immoral in Westernized society, it is very common in China, where Nai Nai still resides. In an elaborate ruse to get the family together one last time before she passes, they throw a wedding for Billi’s cousin and his girlfriend of only a couple months, and everyone flies in to Nai Nai’s hometown for a visit (from America and Japan).

The film is slow paced, and quiet. It is melancholic and incredibly bittersweet. It is also beautifully filmed and sprinkled with a plethora of humorous and lighthearted moments to give levity to such heaviness that is a story about death.

Nai Nai is played wonderfully by Zhao Shuzhen. She is a playful, hilarious, boldly honest and compassionate matriarch. Shuzhen and Awkwafina bring so much chemistry to this grandmother-grandchild relationship and through a lot of little moments, it feels very sincere. At one point Nai Nai giggles as she grabs Billi’s bottom, and says that she has always loved her “little round butt.”

Lulu Wang also takes many opportunities to explore the differences between cultures,  Western and Eastern, and the generational gaps that can affect ones priorities and opinions. She also allows the arguments to breathe and develop in a way that is not one-sided or angled in any particular corner. The audience is just allowed to take it in and observe these differences in a non-judgmental way.

“The Farewell” is an Arcadian film, moved by touching performances and small laughs. Using simplicity to dive into complicated topics, Wang succeeds in bringing a story that can connect, stir and rustle audiences from any place of life. And it will probably make you cry.

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