Based on an actual lie that director Lulu Wang went through with her own family, The Farewell follows Billi Wang played by Awkwafina as she learns her grandmother back in China is sick and only has a short while left to live. With her family determined to not notify Nai Nai of her health, Billi is discouraged from leaving America to visit China as her emotions would ‘give away everything’. Torn between two cultures, while gathering together for a faux wedding, we witness Billi come to terms with her Nai Nai’s declining health and respecting her family’s decision.
I suppose to some, this situation is a bit insane, but in truth, is more common than you think. I too have been through something similar, and I believe this might be because I am from an Asian family background. But I am also Australian and many of the decisions I make, qualities I value and morals I uphold are influenced by my upbringing within an Eastern cultural family and growing up in a Western environment. Awkwafina’s character Billi is much the same and the internal struggle is evident in Awkwafina’s flawless portrayal of Billi; from delivering lines effortlessly with the hard-hitting questions to spelling out everything Billi is feeling with just emotive facial expressions. I thoroughly enjoyed Awkwafina’s performance who (known for her comedy) proves with this film that she can act just as well in a dramatic role. The on-screen chemistry that Awkwafina has with Zhao Shuzhen as Billi and Nai Nai is so believable, I had to remind myself that they were just actors and not actually related.
The cast in this film all band together as a talented fellowship. No-one really outshone the other on-screen as they all shone brightly together. Although, I must admit, real Wang Family dog, Ellen is a complete scene stealer. Totally adorable.
Every step of the way during The Farewell, I felt right there along with Billi in the roller coaster of stress, fear and emotions that she goes through. Perhaps it’s because I have my own family challenges to face with my own father being in palliative care, but I understood and related to Billi’s journey; I laughed, I sobbed, and it made me wonder how different things may have be had my own father not been aware of his declining health.
The Farewell is a beautiful film, both emotionally and visually. Even when there was no dialogue, the visuals, the facial expressions of the cast, the perfectly chosen music and the clever narrative unfolded the storyline so well, by the end of the film, I felt like one of the family members; equally stressed with a strong desire of wanting to know what happened to the real Nai Nai of whom the film is based on. If you love your foreign films, The Farewell meets you halfway with dialogue both in English and Mandarin. If you love family (and who doesn’t), I strongly recommend seeing this film. And if you have ever been part of two worlds; Eastern culture and Western culture – this film is going to hit home.