Monday, July 29, 2019

Movie Review: "The Farewell" (2019)

Director: Lulu Wang
Year: 2019
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

When a family discovers their grandma (Nai Nai) has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, they decide not to tell her about her diagnosis. Instead, they put together a fake wedding so everyone can reunite in China and have one last happy memory with Nai Nai before she passes away.

Awkwafina does tai chi with Shuzhen Zhao in a movie still for the A24 drama The Farewell
"As you get older, it's good to have someone to take care of you." (Image Source)
Movies that deal with cancer are really hard for us to watch because we have lost several family members to such an awful disease. "The Farewell" (2019) is unlike any cancer-related film we've seen in the past. It is written and directed by Lulu Wang and is her second feature-length writing and directorial effort following the 2014 film "Posthumous." Billi (Awkwafina) is a Chinese-born American who is very close to her grandma (Nai Nai) (Zhao Shuzhen) despite living so far away. Nai Nai has just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and she only has three months left to live.  As is customary in China when an older person gets sick, Nai Nai's sister and extended family have opted not to tell her. Instead, Nai Nai's doctors tell her that her test results showed only "benign shadows." To gather everyone in China, the family plans on having a huge wedding banquet for Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) as an excuse to throw one final celebration with Nai Nai. Billi's parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) don't want her to go to China because they don't think she can refrain from spilling the beans. Billi makes her way to China against her parents' wishes so she can spend time with Nai Nai. The whole family wrestles with the morality of keeping the truth about her illness from the family matriarch.
Movie still for the new film The Farewell (2019) where Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Han Chen, and Aoi Mizuhara stare with worry at Shuzhen Zhao
"It's been too long since we've all been together like this." (Image Source)
In America, to not tell someone that they have a terminal illness is unconscionable and actually illegal. This is something that the characters in "The Farewell" acknowledge and address, especially considering that Billi and her parents think of themselves Americans. When it comes down to it, it is explained that in China, customs and values are simply different. It's better to let someone remain ignorant and happy than to live the rest of their life in fear of the inevitable end, and that it's better for those who will be left living to carry the emotional burden for the person who is dying. "The Farewell" offers a look into that idea in practice and delivers what is a bittersweet yet touching, cathartic, surprisingly funny tale of family, love, tradition, and culture. It explores the cultural differences between America and China and shows how they ultimately drove the decision to leave Nai Nai blissfully ignorant about her diagnosis. Whenever we watch movies dealing with cancer or terminal illness, we expect somber, bleak explorations of the many struggles sickness and dying can bring. This is why we typically "pass" on seeing films like this. They can be tough to endure. We know all too well what it's like to have lost people near and dear to our hearts because of cancer's killer grasp. Though "The Farewell" does have a couple of deeply melancholy moments, it also has an underlying sense of happiness and levity, which we did not expect. We also didn't expect Awkwafina to have such astonishingly good dramatic acting chops since she has typically been a comedic actor in the past. She gives one of the best performances of the year thus far in a nuanced display of Oscar-worthy acting.
Movie still for A24's 2019 film "The Farewell" where Awkwafina rests her head on her grandmother's shoulder at a dinner table full of people
"No matter how sad you feel, you cannot tell her." (Image Source)
We wound up loving "The Farewell," a thoughtful, emotional, must-see film from A24. It brings a different, less depressing, sliver-of-silver-lining approach to dealing with grief and terminal illness. It is sure to bring big tears as we join Billi and her family on this painful journey. It will also make you laugh, and smile, and fondly remember your loved ones who have passed. It will put you in Billi's shoes and make you question whether or not it is okay to tell a "good lie." Lulu Wang should absolutely be nominated for best director come Academy Awards season. Please, go see this stunning, moving film.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
RT Rating: 100%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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  1. I am dying to see this movie but it still hasn't opened up here. My fingers are crossed it shows up soon.

    1. Hi, Keith!

      Hopefully "The Farewell" opens up near you soon. It is an absolute must-see! Enjoy it!

      ~Lolo & BigJ