By Casey Campbell
My favorite thing to do is go into a movie blind. With The Farewell, I was blind to the plot, but not blind to the near universal acclaim. I had no clue it was a true story, nor that it would be as ultimately intimate as it turned out to be. So, before starting the movie, I had high expectations, and when the credits started to roll, I was both smiling and crying. Man, The Farewell is an amazingly well made movie with some amazingly subtle and moving performances, and a really complex human center. It’s on Amazon Prime right now. It’s a good one.
The Farewell follows a Chinese family living in America, led by a truly amazing Awkwafina as daughter Billi, who have to return to China after Billi’s grandmother develops a terminal illness. The catch, though, is that they don’t tell her grandmother about her diagnosis. It’s a complex and entirely human dilemma, brought to vibrant life by Awkwafina (like seriously, her performance is so real and personal), and it’s made even more real by the cultural differences at hand. In China, the characters say it’s a point of emotional and personal pride to allow the ill family member to live out their days in the best way possible while their family members hold the burden of death. It’s strange to me as an American, but they go so far as to explain that via the Chinese-American immigrated family.
With such a defined and realized set of characters, it’s surprising that the movie also finds time to be as entirely entertaining and interesting as it is. We spend three days in China leading up to the wedding and each step is as fun and character informing as the last. In the end the complex moral center of the movie blends evenly between cultures and everything turns out okay. For such a seemingly sad story, The Farewell blends tragicomedy in the nicest way possible. You put together different elements of cultural differences until you fall into Billi’s shoes. This is basically a coming of age story for a family.
Coming of age stories are cool for showing a really intimate view of a passing of time and a transformation at the same time. The Farewell nails this in both a limited and wider sense. Billi comes to terms with living life as much as she can, and the family tries to push aside their cultural differences to stay close. It’s impressive how much writer/director Lulu Wang is able to pack into this story. Each character is so fully formed, with extra thanks to the performances of course, and without much dialogue you can get a fairly fleshed out profile of each of these people.
The Farewell is a movie that makes you feel all kinds of emotions, but never in a manipulative way. It’s earnest and sweet and sad and exceptionally well done. It’s available on Amazon Prime, so you should check it out.