By Bradley Lane
While it may not be readily apparent when surveying the most popular movies currently, filmmaking is experiencing a great change regarding what stories are getting told. While big studios fall over themselves to remake and serialize every existing property put to celluloid, independent production studios like A24 and even arthouse subsidiaries of large studios are creating opportunities for voices previously unrepresented in traditional filmmaking. For decades the director’s chair had been overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly white. Which is not inherently a bad thing, but it does limit the types of perspectives from which we can tell compelling stories. Enter: Lulu Wang, a Chinese-American writer and director that crafts a personal and touching story that is unequivocally unique to her experience as an artist, a person of Chinese heritage and as an American.
Billi is struggling as a writer living in New York City when she learns of her family’s decision to withhold information from Billi’s grandmother, or Nai Nai. The Farewell is centered around this lie. It is a simple lie that comes with a lot of implications, but ultimately is designed to protect Billi’s Nai Nai. Her family decides to hide the fact that she is dying from Nai Nai, thus in order to aid in her passing by bearing the burden of her ailing health for her as a family. In order to get together to see her without Nai Nai suspecting anything, the family stages a fake wedding for Billi’s cousin in China to see Nai Nai one last time together as a family. The Farewell is based on Lulu Wang’s own experience with such a lie.
It would be an absolute disservice if I did not credit both Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao’s performances as the absolute standouts of The Farewell. Awkwafina takes a step out of her comedic comfort zone in portraying Billi’s palpable vulnerability. She is required to bear the stresses of conflicting cultural values while masking all these intense emotions when she is with her Nai. Shuzhen Zhao has been acting in China since she was 16 years old and makes her American debut as Nai Nai at the age of 75 years old. Zhao steals the screen whenever she has time to shine. She and Awkwafina also have a wonderful chemistry together, which makes every scene they share a treat to watch.
There is a beautiful symmetry to The Farewell in how it portrays both American and Chinese culture. Wang is critical of both American and Chinese culture throughout the film, but through her unique experience of reckoning with this situation in real life, comes to understand a more universal type of truth than what she previously sought. It sits outside of the confines of culture and makes viewing The Farewell an extremely humanistic experience.
The Farewell delivers a unique perspective carefully crafted into a universally understandable experience. – 3.5/5