A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, putting together a wedding so she won’t get suspicious when the whole family arrives. Written and directed by Lulu Wang, with Awkwafina, Shuhzen Zhao, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin and Xiang Li.
First and foremost you have to talk about the fact that this is only Lulu Wang’s second feature film, watching The Farewell you’d imagine that it was made by a filmmaker who’s been at this for significantly longer to have such an established style. Wang’s first feature, Posthumous, made less than 20 thousand dollars but the opening weekend for this film made nearly 15 times that. Her directorial style is so sharp but it retains the very close, family vibe that this film is all about with ease, it’s very modern but with old fashioned values which is not at all common in recent cinema. There’s no doubt that this was a project very close to the heart for Wang and taking an extremely personal and emotional story and adapting it to the screen must have been a difficult task but the amount of effort, dedication and love that was put it into making the film, is clear as crystal in the final project.
It’s not everyday a film shows in cinemas worldwide that so distinctly explores a culture that isn’t American or British and it’s a sheer pleasure to see. It’s brilliant to be able to see everything through Billi’s (Awkwafina) eyes, Chinese culture is her heritage and a part of her life but to travel back home and be thrown full force into it during a time of emotional distress is fascinating to watch, seeing the New York and Changchun sides of Billi clash. Not to mention the constant stream of delicious looking food that appears all throughout this film that reiterates how much of a fixture it is in the culture, whatever emotion you leave this film feeling, there will be at least a little hunger mixed in.
The very soul of The Farewell is family, a sincere and touching tale of coming to terms with the idea of losing someone you love. It’s done in a way that doesn’t become maudlin or morose, it’s a celebration of life, even in times of sadness and a heartfelt nod to the importance of relationships with family. Making something so moving and genuine, centred around family, is impressive because it’s difficult to come up with any film that’s been made in recent years that comes close to telling a story like this, there may be plenty that tell of death and difficulties but none that so palpably put family values on the big screen.
A big part of portraying those values is how well the cast work together, especially Awkwafina and Shuhzen Zhao, the love, kindness and generosity between them is wholeheartedly convincing and they’re charming to watch. With Awkwafina having established herself as a comedic staple in any film, it looked like this role was going to be of slight difficulty, to have to really open up emotionally but any initially disbelief should be ignored, she does a great job and it shows that she’s capable of holding a lead role and has much more of a range than we’d seen of her previously. The representation of the grandmother and granddaughter relationship is heart-warming, and at times heart-breaking, to watch unfold.
The trailer may make you think you’re heading into more of a comedy but while the film is funny, it is a drama without doubt and one that will hit you right in the ticker. Lulu Wang has shown that she’s a heavy hitter of a filmmaker, the visual and writing styles work perfectly together and you’d expect to see something of this quality from the big names in directing. The cast are a perfect blend and the story is sad but uplifting and reassuring. It’s obvious why A24 took the chance with this film and once you see it, you’ll be grateful they did too.