The Farewell (2019) Review

Time: 100 minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Adult themes
Cast:
Awkwafina as Billi Wang
Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang
Diana Lin as Lu Jian
Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai
Lu Hong as Little Nai Nai
Jiang Yongbo as Haibin
Director: Lulu Wang

A headstrong Chinese-American woman (Awkwafina) returns to China when her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.

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I’d been hearing about The Farewell a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to get around to it for some time. I just knew it as the movie where a family don’t tell a grandmother about her cancer, very difficult to forget that premise. I heard some great things about it, and having finally gotten around to it, I can confirm that it is very good and for sure worth seeing.

First thing to establish, the story of The Farewell is based off writer and director Lulu Wang’s own life, with a situation where she had to pretend along with the rest of her family that her grandmother didn’t have cancer, while staging a fake wedding so that they could secretly say a final goodbye to her. Knowing this adds a personal level to the movie, and it feels honest throughout. If you looked at the significant events that happen over the course of The Farewell, not much actually happens. It’s a much quieter movie, none of it feels melodramatic or pretentious, and it feels quite real. This is a slower paced and dialogued focused movie, with the dialogue being very well written, witty, emotional, and very strong on the whole. There are some interesting conversations throughout, such as about whether the grandmother should be told about her cancer or not, or the differences between living in China and America. It doesn’t really take sides about any of it, just showing the characters’ perspectives on the topics. From the premise, it sounds like a depressing movie but it’s actually quite funny at many points, while also effectively delivering on the heartfelt moments. Although The Farewell is around an hour and 40 minutes long, you might find this to be slow if you are expecting the runtime to fly by and for it to be very eventful, because that’s not the case. I was expecting a slower and quieter movie, and as that I thoroughly liked it, and it did its job well. Now I think I should just come out and say that I didn’t connect with much that happened, not that I couldn’t empathise with the characters and what they’re dealing with, but I’m fully aware that this movie meant a lot more to others. As for me, I respect it greatly, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested as maybe some other people who love the movie.

I just knew Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, generally more comedic roles. However with The Farewell she establishes herself as an impressive dramatic actor, such a genuine and real performance. Another equally great performance is that of the grandmother played by Shuzhen Zhao, she was fantastic here. The bond and chemistry between the two are fantastic. The rest of the cast mostly make up the rest of the family are also pretty good, but it’s Awkwafina and Zhao’s movie really. While I get that, I do wish some of the other characters were developed a little more than how they were.

This is Lulu Wang’s second film, and she’s really directed this well. It’s very well shot, and she really captured the locations well (especially with the movie being almost always set in China). With The Farewell being a dialogue driven movie, Wang did a good job at directing these scenes particularly, keeping the conversations flowing.

The Farewell is a solid, empathetic and heartfelt dramedy. It’s very well written and directed by Lulu Wang, and the acting is great, especially from Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen. Even if you’re a little iffy about the premise, trust me when I say that it’s well worth watching, definitely deserving of all the acclaim it has been receiving.

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