The Farewell Review: A Beautiful Tale of Family and Memory

Billi (Awkwafina) lives in New York with her family who moved from China when she was six. Her home country is foreign to her and she struggles with the language of her family. Now her beloved grandmother has been diagnosed with cancer. Only the family have decided to not tell her this. Instead, they are throwing a fake wedding so that the family can get together and say goodbye to her, without her realising they are saying goodbye. As Billi strives to be a good member of her family, she struggles with her grief and conscience.

The film offers a fascinating insight into the very familiar constructs of a family in crisis. Writer/Director Lulu Wang has crafted an enormously funny work of social insight. As the characters struggle with the impact of their actions (or inaction) they all try to continue on with life, allowing Nai Nai to plan and organise a fake wedding, partially to keep her busy and happy, but also to avoid difficult situations of their own. As we learn more about the characters it becomes clear that everyone has reason to avoid an emotionally exhausting farewell.

The moral dilemma at the heart of the film is very difficult. Is it better to inform a loved one that their life is coming to an end, allowing them to plan their last few months, or is it better and kinder to live in ignorance. It’s observed that in the US keeping this information from a patient would be illegal, and interestingly the point is made that in China a life is not seen as being purely belonging to the person, but to everyone. In this sense, Nai Nai’s diagnosis is not just. The complex morality of this issue is mulled over in several of the film’s wonderful moments of introspection.

There are many characters in the film, with some very strong performances. Awkwafina is an excellent lead. She’s relatable and compelling, as well as effortlessly funny. Her relationship with Zhao Shuzhen’s Nai Nai is the highlight of the film. They’re both excellent together and very convincing as grandmother and granddaughter. Other characters are not as developed but feel authentic. I’d have loved to see more of Aiko’s perspective on the whole ordeal, and of the two brothers together. But wanting for more is a good indicator of quality.

The Farewell is hilarious, relatable and very beautiful. It’s the humble moments of family bonding that really sells the drama. Superb performances, eloquent direction and fabulously fresh script. This is film of the year territory.

Five Stars

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