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 *

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