- 24 Sep 19
Awkwafina is beautifully understated in complex dramedy about family and distance.
Directed by Lulu Wang. Starring Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Gil Perez-Abraham, Jim Liu. 98 mins. In cinemas now.
Artistically-minded New Yorker Billi has just been turned down for a dream fellowship.
She can’t share her shame and disappointment with her Chinese immigrant parents, who constantly remind her of how much they have sacrificed. Already feeling distant and detached from her own life and everyone in it, Billi is then asked to keep a secret from the one person she’s close to.
Billi’s grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is dying – and the family don’t want to tell her. Instead, a wedding is hastily arranged in Changchun, so the family have an excuse to come together and pay respects to the dying matriarch in a joyful setting. The family see this act as a kindness, and a cultural norm. But Billi can’t imagine concealing the truth of Nai Nai’s life from her, or smiling through such a painful time.
“Based on an actual lie” from writer-director Lulu Wang’s life, The Farewell is filled with the subtle interactions and complex, layered truths that only come from real experience. Though warmly funny throughout, Wang’s naturalistic writing avoids broad culture-clash jokes and instead explores how secrets between families unfurl.
As Billi, Awkwafina – known for her outrageous comedy roles – is beautifully understated, capturing her character’s confusion, isolation, and unique state of pre-grief. As Nai Nai, Zhaou is lively, spiky and wise, and the portrayal feels like a warm love letter to Wang’s own grandmother.
The Farewell can feel careful and overscripted, indicating Wang’s personal instinct to protect the characters and not delve too deeply into harsh truths. But this decision feels as loving as the film does.