The Farewell is a very intimate look at one family as they go about saying goodbye to a loved one while never letting them know the truth.
Billi (Awkwafina) joins the rest of her family in Changchun to say goodbye to her grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao). As a cover, the family is planning the wedding for her Japanese-raised cousin. It’s one of the best cover ops ever when you think about it. What other way can one possibly gather with their entire family during a time of joy and sorrow? We can see the sadness in their faces while working around the truth. The family goes as far as to change the medical diagnosis at the hospital! The nerve, people!
Going back home to her homeland is a blessing in disguise for Billi. Yeah, she’s certainly a fish-out-of-water at first but she’s the driving force for the narrative. The trip soon becomes something more than the opportunity to reconnect with her grandmother. Billi soon rediscovers her homeland so to speak. More importantly, The Farewell gives us the opportunity to bond with this dysfunctional family. But are they any more or less dysfunctional than we are? This is the question that I find myself continuing to go back to but so far, I don’t have an answer. I can tell you this much: I was laughing quite a bit on my first watch in May 2019.
In many ways, The Farewell feels like a cathartic piece of cinema. It’s not quite the same way in which The Souvenir presents itself. Nor does it feel like an expensive home video that’s been made for theaters. There’s something about watching this film in which we’re able to find the beauty in it. I credit writer/director Lulu Wang as well as the entire cast. Awkwafina broke out last summer with a pair of films, Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. She delivers a very heartfelt performance here. One that evokes her comedic side but also leaves room for the family drama at hand.
I regret that I did not see The Farewell during Sundance earlier this year. By the time that I started hearing the positive buzz, I couldn’t make any changes to my screening schedule. In any event, the film would screen during the 2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival. Just my luck, anxiety was running high for other reasons. In any event, I highly recommend The Farewell. You might even get some ideas for your own family from watching this film. You never know!
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Lulu Wang
CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao, Hong Lu, Yongbo Jiang