The Farewell


A happy family portrait.

(2019) Dramedy (A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Shuzhen Zhou, Diana Lin, Jim Liu, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Yongbo Jiang, X-Mayo, Hong Lu, Gil Perez-Abraham, Becca Khalil, Ines Laimins. Directed by Lulu Wang

 

It is inevitable as we journey through our lives that we will lose loved ones. The natural order of things is that we age, grow old and die so those who were put on this Earth before us finish their cycles before we do. We have to come to grips with their mortality and in doing so, our own. It is hardest sometimes for those who are young to truly understand that those around them are neither invincible nor immortal.

Billi (Awkwafina) is an underachieving Chinese-American writer whose parents emigrated to this country when she was a little girl, tearing her away from the culture she knew and the family she loved, in particular her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhou). Even as a grown woman, she still telephones her grandmother regularly and remains close even though she hasn’t seen her in years.

One day while home doing laundry, she discovers her father (Ma) disconsolate in his bedroom and demands to know what’s wrong. It turns out Nai Nai – his mother – has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and doesn’t have long to live, maybe only weeks. Billi is devastated of course but she is further thrown for a loop when she discovers that Nai Nai hasn’t been told the truth about her condition – a Chinese tradition in which the family takes on the burden of knowing and worrying about the impending mortality of a loved one.

The marriage of a hapless cousin, Hao Hao (Chen) to a Japanese girl, Aiko (Mizuhara) is used as an excuse to bring the family to Changchun where Nai Nai lives. Billi is eager to go to say farewell to her grandmother but her mother (Lin) is adamant; Nai Nai must remain ignorant about her condition and Billi is sure to give away her grief, being an emotional sort.

Naturally Billi goes anyway and Nai Nai is absolutely delighted. She’s totally in her element, planning everything having to do with the ceremony and the reception, arguing with the caterers over whether crab or lobster is to be served. Billi agrees to hold her tongue but it’s hard not for her to be melancholy from time to time. It’s the rest of the family though that has trouble keeping their emotions in check.

Billi has issues regarding the move to America. China has changed to an incredible degree and isn’t a country she recognizes. Her connection with Nai Nai is her connection to her heritage and it is part of her identity. The Farewell allows us – and director Lulu Wang, whose life and experiences this is based on – to explore the tightrope that Chinese-Americans must often walk to reconcile the cultures of their background and of their present circumstances.

Awkwafina, a rapper who started out as comic relief in films like Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians is absolutely devastating here. This is the kind of performance that establishes careers and can net an actress plum roles. Billi is a nuanced individual, caught between two cultures and not really sure which one she identifies with most. Her self-worth has taken a beating, mostly due to her overbearing hyper-critical mother. She believes strongly that her Nai Nai should be told the truth about her condition and she has trouble justifying the lie, yet she keeps a big secret of her own. At the end Billi embraces both sides of her identity and it is beautiful to see. Zhou and Ma give Awkwafina some great support and the onscreen relationships feel totally real.

It is no secret how much the Chinese culture values family above all else and for those Westerners who don’t understand that, the difference between East and West is succinctly explained here. Even so, there is a universal aspect to families; we all have members of our family we treasure and others we see only on rare occasions (and that’s just fine with us) while there are still others we barely know. I think you’ll find that the family gathering here will seem very familiar in a lot of ways to most of you, even if there are some cultural differences – like karaoke. Just don’t try to make sense of all the cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends.

This is a movie that has heart and comes by its emotional responses honestly. You don’t get a sense of being manipulated here; nonetheless this will resonate, particularly with those who have lost a beloved grandparent. I was very much reminded of the last time I saw my grandmother alive in Winnipeg. I did get a chance to say goodbye to her which was a very good thing even though she wasn’t in a terminal stage yet. I’ve never forgotten my Baba and how warm and loved she made me feel. Grandmothers are like that, you know.

This looks to become a major indie hit for A24 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a wider release than it is already enjoying. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the film got some recognition come Oscar nomination time, particularly for Awkwafina but maybe for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Zhou) and Best Picture. Cinephiles should make a beeline to the box office for this one as should anyone who has ever loved their grandmother, particularly if that grandmother is still alive. You definitely need to appreciate her while she’s still around.

REASONS TO SEE: The story struck a huge chord in me. Awkwafina is absolutely amazing here. This is not a tourist version of China but a peek into the everyday lives of Chinese people.
REASONS TO AVOID: Got a little bit hard to figure out who was who in terms of the relatives.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity as well as some serious adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the film made its limited release debut on July 12, it beat out Avengers: Endgame for the largest per-screen average of the year to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Departures
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Lamp Light

New Releases for the Week of July 25, 2019


ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

(Columbia) Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

In 1969 the world was undergoing a radical change and so was Hollywood. For action star Rick Dalton and his longtime stunt double Cliff, those changes are getting increasingly hard to navigate. Rick has an ace up his sleeve though – a very famous next door neighbor whose career is just taking off. A young star by the name of Sharon Tate.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and promos here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao. A Chinese-American family returns to China, ostensibly to attend a wedding but really to spend time with their grandmother who has a short time to live but following Chinese tradition hasn’t been told the truth about her condition. The adult daughter of the family has an especially hard time concealing the truth from her beloved Nai Nai in this acclaimed indie comedy from visionary director Lulu Wang.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for thematic material, brief language and some smoking)

Sea of Shadows

(National Geographic) Marc Davis, Andrea Crosta, Carlos Loret de Mola, Cynthia Smith. When a group of Chinese and Mexican criminals’ over-the-top methods of poaching fish in the Sea of Cortez threaten one of the most endangered species of whales in the world, a team of journalists, activists and undercover agents take on the syndicates to protect the whales and bring the perpetrators to justice.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Above the Shadows
Clarita
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Sword of Trust

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Asako I & II
Astronaut
Dancing Elephant
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Judgementall Hai Kya
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love
The Other Story
Yuli

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Dead Water
Dear Comrade
Judgementall Hai Kya
The Raft
See You Soon
Skin
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Dear Comrade

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Farewell
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Pick of the Litter – July 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Spider-Man: Far From Home

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei. With the world forever changed following the events of the last two Avengers movies, Peter Parker finally seems to be going back to normal as he accompanies members of his class on a school trip to Europe. However, he can’t escape his role as Spider-Man as Nick Fury recruits him to fight a completely different kind of villain with an unusual ally. July 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

(Roadside Attractions) Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen. For the legendary troubadour Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen was his muse. Most of the incredible love songs that he wrote over his career were about her. Their relationship was both passionate and challenging; it is captured on archival footage recently unearthed. July 5

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Gil Perez-Abraham, Diana Lin. A Chinese-American family travels to the mother country to visit their grandmother who is dying of cancer. Following Chinese practice, the grandmother hasn’t been told of her medical condition, causing the young granddaughter issues in keeping the truth from her beloved grandma. July 12

Super 30

(Reliance) Hrithik Roshan, Amit Sadh, Nandish Singh, Virendra Saxena. The amazing but true story of an Indian mathematician who institutes the Super 30 program to help underprivileged youth to pass the entrance exams for the Indian Institute of Technology which could land them high-paying jobs they otherwise had no shot at getting. July 12

David Crosby: Remember My Name

(Sony Classics) David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz, Graham Nash. Crosby’s music has helped two generations define themselves – with the Byrds in the Sixties and with CSNY in the Seventies. Now a septuagenarian himself in ill health and having alienated most of his peers, struggles to define himself. July 19

Honeyland

(NEON) Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov. The most honored film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Honeyland follows the last female beekeeper in Europe as her remote village is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers who not only threaten her own livelihood but also to upset the delicate natural balance of her village. July 26

Jirga

(Lightyear) Sam Smith, Muhammad Shah Majroh, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad, Basheer Safi. An Australian soldier who accidentally killed a civilian during a raid returns to Afghanistan to make amends. This turns out to be an incredibly dangerous proposition as he is turned over to their law court – the Jirga – for judgement. July 26

Skin

(A24) Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Mike Colter, Bill Camp. This is based on the true story of Bryon Widner, a young man raised by racist skinheads and part of an ultra-violent white supremacy gang. Covered head to toe in racist tattoos, he begins to get his act together and change paths to one less violent and evil with the help of a black activist, the woman he loves and her three daughters. The film is currently available on VOD for DirecTV subscribers. July 26