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The Farewell - Movie Review

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The Farewell

What a beautiful tapestry we weave when the threads of inclusion and diversity are laced into the fabric of an industry. Such is the case with a Hollywood currently at the forefront of the inclusion and representation movement. Lots of work still needs to be done, but the effort to move towards a more inclusive workplace on movie sets has begun to bear fruit.

"Thankfully we have Wang to explain it in such a way that being Chinese or American isn’t mandatory to get it. You just have to be human."


Take The Farewell, for instance. Written/directed by and starring Asian Americans, it is not only a story by and about Asians, but one that also takes on, headlong, the differences between American and Chinese culture. Both, things that would have been frowned upon not so long ago in a Hollywood content with mocking other cultures with over-the-top stereotypical portrayals of non-white culture. We’re looking at you Breakfast at Tiffanys.

But look at us now with The Farewell having already made over $14 million at the U.S. domestic box office and last year’s Crazy Rich Asians – another film directed by and starring a largely Asian cast – having pulled in nearly $180 million. Proof that a diverse workforce leads to better innovation and better products and services.

The Farewell is the semi-true story that writer/director Lulu Wang points out at the beginning of the film is based on an actual lie. Wang takes a story from her real life and positions it at the core of her film that asks the seductive question of whether or not it is ever acceptable to lie to your loved ones.

In the case of the Billi (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians) character in the film, that question becomes of importance when her life comes to a screeching halt upon the news that her elderly Grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with cancer back in her native China. Billi’s relatives, in both her home city of New York as well as in China, ask her to withhold the diagnosis from Nai Nai. Chinese culture holds that informing someone of their terminal illness will rob them of happiness. Since living in the U.S., Billi has become steeped in American culture and has difficulty reconciling the concept which seems overtly impractical at best, and totally unethical at worst.

And that’s exactly what Wang plays with throughout most of her heartfelt film which examines the complicated dynamics of families and ultimately posits the opinion that in spite of our differences, families are the same no matter the culture. And we come to truly believe it in The Farewell. The Farewell

Wang is in a tough spot with her film that could have faltered at any number of points. After all, family comedy/dramas are never an easy task to pull off successfully, especially when also trying to speak to two different cultures at the same time. Throw cancer into the equation, and there’s really no way Wang should have been able to pull this off. But she does. Not only is her humor perfectly on point, so are we completely sold on her unique blend of poignance and absurdity that runs throughout the film.

It takes a genuine Chinese-American to completely understand the cultural complications and circumstances which Billi runs up against. Thankfully we have Wang to explain it in such a way that being Chinese or American isn’t mandatory to get it. You just have to be human.

Special mention must also be given to rapper-turned-actor Awkwafina who steps outside of her rambunctious scene-stealing characters in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians to deliver a truly heartbreaking performance as a young lady caught between two cultures while trying to discover who she really is. It is her most serious role to date and she gives an inspirational lightness and unexpected gravity to her character. Something we rarely ever expect from such a fresh, young actor.

4/5 beers

The Farewell

Blu-ray

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The Farewell

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking.
Runtime:
110 mins
Director
: Lulu Wang
Writer:
Lulu Wang
Cast:
Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
Genre
: Comedy | Drama
Tagline:
Based on an Actual Lie.
Memorable Movie Quote: "How should I have told you? "Oh, your grandma's on the roof."
Theatrical Distributor:
A24
Official Site: https://a24films.com/films/the-farewell
Release Date:
AUGUST 2, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: In this funny, uplifting tale based on an actual lie, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai (grandma), has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken

The Farewell

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