Sunday, July 28, 2019

[Film Review] The Farewell

“Chinese people have a saying: When people get cancer, they die. It’s not the cancer that kills them — it’s the fear.”

Is there ever a correct way to approach the impending death of a loved one? What if you keep it a secret?

Writer-director Lulu Wang’s moving family drama The Farewell is a bittersweet rumination on the subject, and it features a tremendously impressive performance from comedian/rapper/actress Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians). 

Awkwafina plays Billi, a Chinese-born writer struggling in New York City. After receiving news that her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, she returns to China to gather with the relatives during Nai Nai’s final days. But there’s one crucial detail — the family has vowed not to tell Nai Nai that she’s dying.

It’s quite a richly drawn and thought-provoking premise, full of moral conundrums  that are as layered and complex as the film’s early overhead image of a series of staircases. Lulu Wang deftly handles the pristinely-shot proceedings with an eye of compassion and personal insight. It all unfolds organically, and it’s a pensive exploration on the family dynamic and how each member handles the prickly situation in different ways. So many questions arise: Are they doing the right thing? Is this the best way to preserve as much happiness for her as possible? Or is it wrong to keep her in the dark? The excellent script also comes with affecting touches of humor and meaningful dialogue, all while unraveling the contrasts between Eastern and Western cultures.

Awkwafina is absolutely fantastic in her role. It’s one of the best performances of the year. It’s so natural. So nuanced. So adept. So subtle, yet so powerful. Somber at times, funny at others. She says so much with her striking facial expressions alone — there’s a world of turmoil, perplexity, and conflicting emotions in just one stare. It’s a performance that’s certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination — or better yet — a win.  Zhao Shuzhen as the grandmother also is wonderful. She embodies the role with sweetness and vulnerability and warmly honest personality. There are some absolutely heartbreaking moments of her being oblivious to the situation, especially as she writes off her illness as “just a lingering cold” or as she discusses plans for the future. *Tears*

The Farewell is meditative and poignant. Believable and profound. Commendably down-to-Earth. And the film’s clever opening proclamation of “Based on an actual lie...” transcends to universal truths. 

* 10/10 *

Monday, July 8, 2019

[Review] Spider-Man: Far From Home

If it feels like there have been a lot of Spider-Man appearances on the big screen lately, that’s because there have been. But you know what? As long as they keep being this much fun, then I’m not complaining.

Tom Holland (the best Peter Parker) suits up again as the masked web-slinger. While the last Spidey film was a Homecoming, this one is a journey Far From Home, which means the plot consists of Peter and his classmates embarking on a school trip across Europe. The kid just wants to enjoy the scenery and tell his crush (played by Zendaya) that he likes her, but the vacation is interrupted when colossal water, air, and fire creatures begin to wreak havoc upon the itinerary. 

Following the dramatic fallout of Avengers: Endgame, this film takes a decidedly lighter and funnier route, which is really how Spider-Man movies should be. A clever and hilarious opening sequence that involves a high school daily news segment sets the tone of levity with flickering winks and nudges. The story is stuffed with classic coming-of-age and teen comedy elements. It’s consistently entertaining and enjoyable, the momentum is quick on its feet, and all the jokes hit their targets.

But it isn’t all a breeze. There’s a lot weighing on Peter Parker’s mind this time around. He’s still mourning the loss of his beloved superhero mentor (if you saw Avengers: Endgame, you know who that is). And there’s a sticky push and pull between just being a kid or saving the world. It’s a lot of pressure, and it’s hard to keep your identity a secret when you’re always being called into action! Speaking of being called into action, frequent Marvel stalwart Samuel L. Jackson returns as agent Nick Fury, and a fully-game Jake Gyllenhaal cruises in as an illusion-wielding superhero named Mysterio. Gyllenhaal is great here, and I’ll just say that Mysterio is a very fitting name for this character. 

The greatly cast Tom Holland continues to shine with a blend of wide-eyed exuberance and down-to-earth awkwardness. He’s truly what Peter Parker always should have been. And hopefully the kid actually will get to experience a normal day of high school one day, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. A vacation is definitely out of the possibility. 

( 8/10 )