A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.
Based on a real life lie, as the opening intertile tells us, ‘The Farewell’ is a film about a Chinese born American woman who returns home for a family wedding. Except the family wedding is a ruse to conceal the real reason Billi (Awkwafina) and her family all return home, which is that her grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and may not have long to live. The family make a decision not to tell her that she is dying, and the characters spend the film dancing around the reality of the situation, concealing their emotions and struggling with the morality of the decision they have made.
I really liked ‘The Farewell’ and I thought it was beautifully played by a relatively unknown cast, with Awkwafina really shining in the leading role. As someone who has spent more time in America than China, she particularly struggles to get her head around the reasons to lie to her grandmother, although she respects the decision of her family. The film is really good at drawing out the contrasts between eastern and western cultures, and whilst this idea is mostly alien to westerners, the film presents a good case for both ways of dealing with the impending death of a family member. I thought the film was sweet and charming, funny at times, and I thought the screenplay superbly balanced the clash between tradition and modernity that shows through the different generations of the family.
Zhao Shuzhen is delightful as Nai Nai, Billi’s grandmother, a radiant, kind woman who delivers most of the laughs, but she’s also at the heart of the film’s main emotional beats, and one moment towards the end is gut-wrenching. ‘The Farewell’ is an absorbing family drama with strong performances and a narrative that juggles universal themes in a less familiar setting for western audiences, and I really liked it.
Directed By: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara and Li Xiang