via: Sundance Film Festival
“Based On An Actual Lie”
The Farewell is a bittersweet comedy-drama featuring a young Asian American girl, Billi (Awkwafina), who returns to China to visit her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou). With only months to live, Nai Nai has been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
However, here is the catch. She is the only one in the family who has no idea about her diagnosis. Her relatives decide to keep it a secret as they gather together in Changchun to discreetly say their final goodbyes. To cover up the truth behind their sudden visit, they put on a wedding for Billi’s cousin
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell provides a glimpse into the director’s personal life. In an interview with Marie Claire, Wang says, “I was in Berlin editing my first feature film, Posthumous, when my mother called and said, ‘Your grandma’s dying, and we’re not telling her. We’re going to see her by pretending your cousin is getting married.’ That kind of all happened in a week. I kept thinking that this is a real-life screwball situation, but it’s really sad. That’s how I started thinking about it as a film.”
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) July 1, 2019
Here’s the rundown:
Asian representation: Without a doubt, the American film industry is finally stepping it up with accurate and diverse representation. Last year, we witnessed Awkwafina in one of Hollywood’s first movies featuring an Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asians.
This year, we see the same happening again in the world of independent films. The Farewell not only stars an Asian cast, but Chinese-American filmmaker Lulu Wang is also the director and writer.
Can report that @thefarewell made me cry (and I am not a crier at movies!), and made me want to call my parents. So many moments of recognition, of "oh my god, I have never seen this portrayed on screen before," down to its tiny details.
— Marina Fang (@marinafang) July 2, 2019
In the storytelling department, this indie film takes it a step further than Crazy Rich Asians. The Farewell follows a true story that many viewers can relate to on a personal level.
Particularly in China, it is traditional for families to conceal a diagnosis from their terminally-ill loved one. A study published in 2018 surveyed 124 patients and found that “more than half of the patients did not know their exact diagnosis before chemotherapy in China.”
Wang brings this story to life with a film shot in Changchung, China. One that features an Asian cast speaking their native language and retelling a common real-life narrative.
Storyline: Beyond highlighting an emotional decision that many families face, we witness Billi struggling with her Asian American identity. The film does an excellent job capturing the culture clash between Billi’s American family and her relatives.
It is a tug-of-war between the East and the West. While her family struggles to understand the secrecy of Nai Nai’s illness, her relatives in China view the matter differently. Along with many other families in China, they believe that it is their duty to carry the burden of her diagnosis.
Furthermore, multiple scenes reveal the conflicting outlooks between Billi and her Chinese relatives. It becomes clear that values are different in the East and the West – such as money, career, family, and customs.
Particularly in one scene, Billi’s uncle harshly scolds her after she advises her father to quit smoking. From her uncle’s differing Eastern perspective, a child must respect their parents by never controlling them.
THE FAREWELL: Big little lies. Truly took my breath away. Aching as only a film caught in the Chinese diaspora, between East and West, can. Haunting in its beauty and sensitivity, uncompromising in its honesty and vulnerability about grief and guilt. A
— kyle 中和 autumner (@TyleKurner) June 14, 2019
Acting: In 2019, we watched Awkwafina breakthrough into Hollywood with her charming and hilarious personality. Most notably, she was highly praised for her performance as the comedic sidekick, Peik Lin Goh, in Crazy Rich Asians.
However, this time around we see a whole new side to her talent. Along with her ability to speak and act in Mandarin, the actress takes on a more serious and dramatic role.
Awkwafina’s performance perfectly illustrates Billi’s extreme sadness as she accepts that her grandmother’s life is coming to an end. Nonetheless, the film is still sprinkled with comedic moments that show the side we love about the Asian American actress.