Duckrice wrote:Red Shoelace wrote:
The Farewell [Mandarin/English] (2019) - 8.25/10Spoiler:The Farewell 2019 ★★★★
Watched Jul 19, 2019
RedShoelace’s review published on Letterboxd :
A special little film that explores the cultural differences between American and Chinese families and the difficulties of saying good bye. Lulu Wang made a remarkable movie here and it is no wonder, because of how personal it was to her. After all, according to the first frame; this story was based on an actual lie. Billi played by Awkwafina moved to America with her parents at the age of six years old, same as Wang. Her meetings with her lovable grandmother Nai Nai are few and far between and for many of us from 1st or 2nd generation immigrant families, can relate. That same relatability is what makes The Farewell such a great story. While not a member that fits into the category, growing up away from the rest of my extended family where a bi annual and some years just an annual trip, left a lasting impression on me. The memories formed on those visits, same for those who grew up visiting family members out of province/country/continent leave an imprint.
So what is The Farewell about exactly? Grandmother Nai Nai who lives on mainland China is given a terminal diagnosis from the hospital, except she doesn't know about it. There is a saying in China as mother to Billi told her "you get cancer, and you die." so the custom of sharing bad news is not what you would think. A faux wedding is planned as an excuse for the family to visit and say their own good byes under false pretenses. An absurd premise on the very truths exploring the contrast between the East and the West. Billi is urged not to visit by her parents because she is someone who wears her heart on her sleeves, growing up in America or even North America, it is something far more common than the more reserved nature of Billi's parents or those from China. So the whole movie plays out as one big game of secret with the lovable Nai Nai at the middle of it.
For a premise that could use the sentimentality as such a crutch, Lulu Wang hesitated to use any close ups if at all. Instead there are terrific shots of the whole family together, sparking the memories in us all about the trips of our youth (for those fortunate enough to have done so) visiting our grand parents in one big gathering. It would have been easy to focus on Billi and even her cousin who is fake marrying his girlfriend of only 3 months who take the custom of not sharing the news with their grandmother poorly. Just as how for most of the film they were attempting their best to hide their emotions, Wang intentionally stayed away from up close expressions. What works so well is grandmother Nai Nai being at the heart and centre of so many frames, quickly warming your heart and preparing you for the worst all at the same time. By the films end you don't want to see Nai Nai go almost as much as her family and Shuzhen Zhou is worthy of the supporting actress praise.
For a film with such a potentially serious story, it manages to bring the laughs. Not the sort of laughs you would expect in an R rated raunchy comedy or lame one liners of a rom-com or superhero film. The film is funny because of all its light hearted situational moments. I feel like often times nuanced comedy like this is when it works best in a film and The Farewell is definitely one that fits in the "you'll laugh AND cry" camp. This is the type of crowd pleaser that inspires you to shout out from the roof tops to urge people to watch. Especially as a Canadian and more importantly one that lives in the greater Toronto area where people from all walks of life have moved to just like Billi and her family. They may not have come from China but the similarities are there and ultimately regardless of custom, saying good bye to a family member is hard to do no matter the circumstances. A terrific film that left me with the passing thought that maybe a dying grandmother is my emotional kryptonite.
I saw this at Sundance about a month ago. Very good film. The director was there too and she had some interesting stories about the production of it. Many companies she went to told her she needed to have a white guy in it.
Did you watch it at Sundance or did it premiere in your area? I missed the Q&A opening the other week in Toronto presented by Lulu Wang (who the story is heavily based on). Can you give more details to what she said regarding companies wanting there to include a white guy? That doesn't make sense since this film was based on her life story, even the main character Billi moved to America at the same age as her. It wouldn't make sense to include any white person in this movie since the whole film is about the cultural distinctions between being a 1st/2nd generation immigrant and natives of the home land.
Sundance is in end of January - first week of February by the way.