"Crazy Rich Asians" break-out star, Awkwafina, leads one of the best acting ensembles of the year in one of the most touching and unique family stories you'll ever see.
As Boyz II Men famously crooned, "It's so hard to say good-bye." In writer/director Lulu Wang's touching, heart-felt dramedy, "The Farewell," we see that parting is such sweet sorrow, no matter what cultural blockades may stand in the way.
Billi (Awkwafina) is a struggling writer in New York City, who has a very close relationship with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), still living in China. Billi lives with her parents: Her recovering alcoholic father, Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and her strong-willed mother, Jian (Diana Lin). They soon receive some pretty bad news from overseas, that Nai Nai is terminally ill and doesn't have much longer. So a wedding is arranged in China to get the family altogether one last time before it's too late for Nai Nai.
Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, it would be, if only Nai Nai had any idea she was sick. If this premise sounds astoundingly unrealistic, I have a message for you Westerners: As is tradition in Chinese culture, grave medical reports like Nai Nai's are often kept a secret, so that the person can live out their final days in peace, never knowing how close to death they may be. Even Chinese doctors play along with the ruse - a practice that, as pointed out in the film, would be illegal state-side - giving the "real" medical report to family members, while flat-out lying to the actual patient.
Billi - who has clearly been "Americanized" - struggles with the family's decision to keep Nai Nai in the dark. She travels to China with her parents, and tries to come to terms with the fact that her Nai Nai doesn't have much time.
What follows is a very interesting examination on the very nature of family, telling the truth and saying good-bye. The "big" lie about Nai Nai isn't the only lie that's told in "The Farewell," and quite frankly, it points out that we all lie about a various range of things, often times because the truth is just too painful. Is Western culture "selfish" when it comes to death, or is Eastern thoughts about community-over-self the way to go? The movie smartly makes no determinations, and allows these questions to wash over its characters, and its audience members, as they are left to ponder their own beliefs.
And isn't that the best you can ask of a film, for it to be enjoyable and thought-provoking? "The Farewell" checks both boxes, and also paints a rich canvas full of real people, all with different coping mechanisms. Truly, this is one of the best ensembles you'll see on screen this year.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder how you were tricked into seeing what is essentially a sub-titled, foreign film (there are spots of English dialogue, but mostly you'll be reading this one).
If there were ever a movie to get you started on watching sub-titled films, "The Farewell" acts as a great introduction.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao.
Written and Directed by Lulu Wang ("Posthumous").
"The Farewell" is in theaters on Friday, July 26th, 2019.
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