If you’re searching for a film to get you in the feels, look no further than Lulu Wang’s The Farewell.
As soon as I heard about this film I was keen to see it. The desire to witness Awkwafina in a more serious role was enough to have me excited, but it was the overall concept that had me sold. Of course, I had to come prepared: a box of tissues stashed away for the heartbreak that I was sure to endure, and a packet of chips to disguise my ugly sobbing. But rather than a morbid film that had viewers drowning in their tears, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall light-heartedness that accompanied such a heavy topic.
Based on a real lie inspired by Wang’s own experience, The Farewell tells the story of Billi (Awkwafina) and her family as they travel back to China to say their final goodbyes to her beloved grandmother—the one person who doesn’t know she’s dying.
Image Credit: A24
With this secret kept close to their chest the film remains humble, yet raw, as it explores the complexities between Eastern and Western cultures, and the delicate handling of family dynamics and death. With an all-Asian cast and a script that is primarily in mandarin, The Farewell gives a glimpse into a culture that prioritises family values over the West’s individualism, and the conflicts for Billi who has been brought up to believe in both. In this film, the right to self, or the right for Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) to know of her ill health, is a burden that is carried by her family.
It is needless to say Awkwafina does an amazing job as Billi, slipping into a more serious role that feels both relatable and complex as she teeters towards an emotional breakdown at any minute. To my surprise, she had me feeling every emotion within the heavy silences, the awkward family dinners, and every interaction she had with the true star of the film, everyone’s ideal sassy grandma, Nai Nai.
The chemistry between Billi and her grandmother is an absolute highlight of the film. Nai Nai’s quick wit and determination to ensure everyone is well fed and cared for makes this story even more charming, and all the more bittersweet as she remains oblivious to her own well-being. The pressure and burden of keeping this secret in contrast to Nai Nai’s outlook on life, creates a story that is emotionally endearing and one I won’t soon forget.
The Farewell is a genuine and honest film that will have you smiling through your tears, feeling hollow but whole, but most of all it will have you reaching for your phone to give your grandmother a call.
The Farewell is in cinemas now!