Monday, May 27, 2019

The Farewell

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

How do we say goodbye to the ones we love the most? How do we properly wish our loved ones off before they die? There's no definitive answer to this series of questions, but many of us have our own answers to them, & none of them are wrong, either. Personally, I don't have a definitive answer as to how I would do it, but I know I would do it sincerely.

The Farewell takes a look at saying goodbye to the ones we love the most, & it's done in a dryly funny yet sincere way. Based on an actual lie, the film follows Billi (Awkwafina), a Chinese-American girl in New York. A Chinese immigrant, Billi feels more & more disconnected from the Chinese part of her culture every day, & is all but completely Americanized. Although Billi is an aspiring writer, she was just denied the Guggenheim Fellowship, a fact she keeps secret from everyone else, mainly her parents, Haiyan (Tzi Ma) & Jian (Diana Lin).

One night, Billi is told by her parents that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, & that she only has about 3 months left. They will be going to China to spend time with her before she dies; however, they will not tell her that she has cancer, as Chinese culture believes that it is better not to tell for the belief that it won't put the emotional burden on the ill person. In order to not make the family's arrival look suspicious, the family decides to create a wedding between Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) & his girlfriend Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). However, Haiyan & Jian tell Billi that it is best that she doesn't come, as they believe that she won't be able to hold up her part of the lie.

Billi travels to China anyway, since there's not much for her to do in New York as she struggles to pay rent. While in China, she reconnects with some family members she hasn't seen in a long time, including her great-aunt Little Nai Nai (Lu Hong) & her uncle Haibin (Jiang Yongbo). But the longer Billi stays in China, the more she yearns to reconnect with her roots & wants to tell the truth about what's going on.

The cast is phenomenal. Awkwafina is nowhere near her normal energetic self, but that's not an insult; in fact, this is the best performance of her young career. Tzi Ma is also terrific, making a step into the forefront from his years as an understated character actor. And Zhao Shuzhen gets in some great moments as well.

Lulu Wang's direction is excellent. Considering her work here, it's shocking to realize that this is only Wang's second feature film, as she has the visual eye & personal touch of a seasoned director.

And Lulu Wang's screenplay is amazing. Since this is a personal story for her, Wang puts her heart into the screenplay & it shows, & the focus on realistic characters & realistic dialogue is very reminiscent of the films of Mike Leigh.

This is one of the best films of the year so far. It's an often hilarious yet emotional look at a dysfunctional family.

The Farewell was seen by me at the Emagine Royal Oak in Royal Oak, MI for the 2019 Cinetopia Film Festival on Thursday, May 16, 2019. It will be released in limited release in the United States on Friday, July 12, 2019. Its runtime is 98 minutes, & it is rated PG for thematic material, brief language & some smoking.

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