Monday, August 12, 2019

The Farewell - Movie Review

The Movie: The Farewell

The Director: Lulu Wang

The Cast: Awkwafina, Diane Dehn, Ines Laimins, Jim Liu, Tzi Ma

The Story: A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.

The Review:
Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so perfect in its execution that it leaves you stunned and emotionally wrecked. Lulu Wang's semi autobiographical movie is exactly that and rapper turned actress Awkwafina's stunning performance is a revelation. Going in I had heard great things but I was ill prepared for such an authentically moving experience, the kind that seeps into your every brain cell then works its way to your heart and gives itself a permanent home.

I love the different perspectives that we see from different family members based on who they are, where they are from, where they live, and which generation they are a part of. Some of the most poignant moments of the story are group conversations where small talk turns into debate and debate turns into argument and even though cooler heads prevail, most are still dug into the positions and stances they have taken unable to see life in a different way. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it was just really nice to not have to sit through a story where the valiant American teaches all the people from foreign lands what it means to live the proper way.

Awkwafina's character Billi has lived most of her life in America and her values have been shaped by her life experiences living there so it's a bit of a shock when she goes back to China and sees several fundamental differences in family and cultural dynamics. At first, she rebels and protests these ideas but over time begins to understand that what she knows isn't always going to be the right answer. The major issue in question is how the entire family has decided not to tell her grandmother that she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has just a short time left to live. The conversations surrounding whether this is the right or wrong thing to do are some of the most meaningful and impactful of the film and really show the differences between cultures and their fundamental beliefs.

Family, money, respect, death, wealth, happiness, strength, and life itself are all brought into question over the course of the movie and Wang seemed to take extra care to keep the concept of love above all else and the binding force for everything. The way she tells the story is done in such an authentic way that it almost blurs the line between narrative story telling and documentary. This story is essentially about her family so she knows every detail of every moment and every emotion that she wants to convey and I'm sure each of the conversations are drawn from ones that happened in real life at some point along the way.

Most of the movie takes place in China and more specifically the town of Changchun which is in the northeast region of China so not far from both Korea and Japan. Normally when we see China in movies, we get to see the big cities and glamorous excesses that the country has to offer so it was very interesting to see the muted colors and evolving landscape of a city that clearly has seen its ups and downs over the years. All of this gave an additional layer of authenticity and humanity to the characters along with a sense of relatability that is often missing from this type of story telling. This family could have been from anywhere in the world and there would be just as many differences

I don't know if the casting for this movie could have been done any better as every single person seems to have been tailor made to the play their character and we are treated to some standout performances from Awkwafina of course as Billi,  Diana Lin as Billi's mom Jian, Tzi Ma as Billi's dad Haiyan, and Shuzhen Zhao who is absolutely brilliant as Billi's grandmother or Nai Nai as she is called. She is basically the grandmother that everyone wishes they could have, filled with so much life, energy, and knowledge, she confidently leads the family through its troubles while accepting the years of her life gracefully as each one goes by.

While the story does have a lot of serious beats to it, it is also super fun and about as funny of a movie as you will find and I mean genuinely funny not slapstick or or silly jokes funny. Awkwafina naturally is the source of a lot of the comedy which mainly comes from her character's awkward and out of place nature along with a lot of the interactions she has with her family. For someone who has more experience in the music industry than within the acting community, I was very impressed with her performance which was filled with natural and honest emotion. If this is what we can expect from Awkwafina as an actress then she is going to have a spectacular career ahead of her.

The Verdict:
The Farewell is a beautifully crafted and inspiring work of art. It is everything I wanted it to be and so much more. The movie had me emotionally shook and I mean that in the best way possible.


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