Based on an actual lie,’ The Farewell follows the young Chinese-born but U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) who reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai (grandma), has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To ensure that she doesn’t worry about her own condition, the family comes together under the guise of an expedited wedding in an effort to see their beloved matriarch for potentially the last time. Torn between being honest with her Nai Nai and supporting her families wishes, Billi rediscovers the beauty of her heritage, her grandmother’s spirit and the ties that bind us.
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a genuinely heart-warming story that charms its audience with endearing performances by its cast. Normally recognized for her comedic talents, the film is anchored by a solid dramatic performance by Awkwafina. However, that is not to take away from the rest of the cast as each performer breathes life into their characters as they trek through the murky morality of lying to their beloved Nai Nai. Ironically, for a film about deception, each scene feels honest and genuine, never shying away from the complexity of the situation. Choosing to focus on the faces of her characters, Wang’s direction allows the conflicting emotions of each character to be felt by her audience. In this film, there are no heroes or villains. Every family member is allowed to be both imperfect and brave as they attempt to make the best decisions that they can in an awful situation.
In the midst of the family drama, the film also asks earnest questions about the nature of morality. While Billi and her father grapple with keeping such a huge secret from their Nai Nai, the rest of the family holds tightly to their belief that there is nothing wrong with their decision to keep the truth from her. In doing so, the film offers up the tension between Eastern and Western ideologies, without belittling either position. While Billie and her father battle through the North American lens of individual morality, the rest of the family speaks of the Chinese view that the family takes care of each other corporately. Unlike most films that point to cultural differences, The Farewell actually proves to be a love letter to both worldviews, allowing them to be respected in their differences. Can a deliberate deception be a thing of beauty or is there a subtle cruelty in not giving someone the chance to say their ‘proper goodbyes’? Does culture really shape our beliefs of right and wrong more fully than we realize? This is a film that wants its audience to bring their own beliefs to the table and express them, knowing that their arguments are imperfect as well.
While it’s unlikely that The Farewell will break box office records, that in no way reflects its value. Tightly written and executed, Wang’s film is a gem that is worth spreading the word to your friends about.
Just don’t tell Nai Nai.
The Farewell speaks from the heart in theatres on July 19th, 2019.