Everyone struggles with saying goodbye. Saying goodbye forever is especially hard. That’s the focus of the new A24 film, “The Farewell.”
The bilingual film centers on a Chinese family that is faced with saying goodbye to the dying matriarch of their family. Grief after death is a concept dealt with in many films, but as “The Farewell’s” log line — based on an actual lie — suggests, this film has an interesting twist: the grandmother doesn’t know that she is dying.
The film hones in on the experience of Billi, played by Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Ocean’s 8”). Billi is an immigrant who moved to America with her parents when she was six. She discovers that her family is going to China for her cousin’s wedding, but she is not invited. When she presses further, she is told that the wedding is an elaborate lie – everyone is, in fact, going to say goodbye to her grandmother who has stage four lung cancer.
“The Farewell” is in part a look at the difference between eastern and western cultures. Director Lulu Wang explores the clash between the cultural perception of family and the ownership of one’s life. Obviously, in America, it would be illegal to do something like this. But in China, this happens when families feel that it is not worth giving the sick that burden. They wait and carry the burden for them as a family.
Though this sounds like a heavy film, and indeed it is very emotional, it is also quite funny. The audience and the cast laugh throughout the film despite the sad nature of their gathering, much like we do in real life. The writer and director Lulu Wang did a wonderful job finding the balance of emotions in this film. It is paced perfectly, not dragging but moving leisurely through the material. Though it is only her second feature length film, she has a distinct style and voice to bring to film.
The whole cast gives quite strong performances. Every beat is laced with the secret, but none of them play it too heavily. They remain grounded, even during the more over-the-top wedding banquet scenes.
Awkwafina gives perhaps her strongest performance yet. I was hesitant to believe that she would be able to pull of a film of this nature given that her previous high profile roles have focused on bold and audacious comedy. In “The Farewell” her performance is much more subdued and nuanced. It is an excellent display of her range as an actress.
The film is beautifully shot as well. Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano pulls beautiful scenery shots of the city and creates a pleasing visual with a muted color palette. The score, culled by Alex Weston, is very effective throughout the movie as well.
“The Farewell” is a very moving piece about grief, family and saying goodbye. Even if you are not a fan of watching subtitled films, I encourage you to go see this movie. The performances are radiant enough to shine through the language hindrance. It is one of the most genuine movies I have seen this year and thus one of the most touching films I have seen.