Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Farewell

Based on a true story, writer/director Lulu Wang's film showcases a major cultural difference between China and America in dealing with life-threatening illness. When the oldest member of the family (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with cancer in China, the family chooses not to reveal her condition. Instead, the family orchestrates a wedding as an excuse to bring the full family back to China. However, the gathering's true purpose is to say farewell.

There's a philosophical question at the base of the film that Wang refuses to loose herself in. While showcasing a very different view of medicine and death (even the doctors in China help the family to hide the old woman's condition), Wang doesn't attempt to argue one method is better than the other. Instead, the movie focuses on how Nai Nai's (Zhao) condition, and the decision to hide her prognosis from her, effects the entire family - primarily her granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) from America who isn't brought over with her parents because her family fears her ability to keep the secret (but who comes anyway to spend time with the grandmother she loves).

At its best, The Farewell is a jumble of emotions overwhelming both single characters and the family as a whole. While dramatic and touching, the film is also unexpectedly cute and humorous that comes from the family dynamics on display and the odd circumstances of the reunion. Awkwafina and Zhao are the film's stand-outs, but the movie has several strong performances throughout the family including Billi's parents and the bride and groom who have reluctantly put their still burgeoning relationship, the status of which Nai Nai remarks on more than once, on display across the ocean for the family's benefit. Although The Farewell is a movie about death, and offers a number of scenes featuring characters' internal struggle with grief, the film is surprisingly uplifting and even hopeful. The Farewell is currently available on DVD and a number of streaming platforms.

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