Billi (Awkwafina) and her family return to China under the guise of a fake wedding to stealthily say goodbye to their beloved matriarch Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) — the only person that doesn’t know she only has a few weeks to live.
Concepts like these are always heavily intriguing to me, because they are wholly unique and seemingly emotionally powerful. Going into The Farewell, I had quite a lot of expectations, considering how everybody that I had talked to called this an extraordinary film and everything about it looked terrific.
Awkwafina is an actress that I feel is severely underrated. She does a lot of comedy movies and she is always great in them, but not too many people are aware of how great of a dramatic actress she is as well, but The Farewell aims to show people this, and it is such a great display of her talents.
Her character Billi is one that, over the course of the film, was one that I actually began to get attached to. I felt like I had known her personally as if she was a lifelong friend of mine that I had just reunited with. Getting to know her, her dreams, and her relationships with her family members was such a powerful journey and Awkwafina delivered what I think is one of the greatest performances of the year. She is incredibly emotional when she needs to be, but she is also really funny and charming when she needs to be.
That is also one of the biggest things that I loved about The Farewell – its sense of humor. With a different filmmaker at the helm, they might feel like they have to make every single moment extremely dramatic, but Lulu Wang crafted a film that balances drama and comedy flawlessly. There are plenty of scenes where we can laugh with Billi and Nai Nai but there are also several scenes that will pull at your heartstrings, too. This is such a wholesome and charming movie while also being such an emotion-filled movie about family and love.
Something truly amazing about this film is that it wisely spends a lot of time with our characters just simply talking to one another. There really is no big scene where something crazy happens, and for some, that might sound boring or uninteresting. But in my eyes, it was great. Seeing these people talk to one another about topics such as colleges in America was incredibly insightful and because the dialogue was so greatly written, it never feels like we are watching movie characters. It genuinely feels like we are watching real people having real conversations.
The themes of the film are also incredibly well-handled. The Farewell handles subjects like death, family, and love in brilliant and riveting ways. Wang’s screenplay is clearly deeply important to her and it was evident while watching the film progress. There were definitely a few scenes here that were extremely touching.
It is also beautifully shot by Anna Franquesa Solano. Virtually every shot has something interesting to look at. The way she frames certain shots is truly stunning and she even finds ways to position certain characters in a particular area of a scene resulting in some absolutely gorgeous shots.
In terms of flaws, there are a couple of scenes that do not feel that necessary to the overall story. One sequence in particular taking place in the third act seemed like it could have been completely removed and nothing about the story would have been different. It almost felt like a scene that was added in because the film would have been too short otherwise, since the final cut of the film runs at one hundred minutes. But, even still, removing the scene would have been a wise choice, even if it made the film even shorter.
But as a whole, this is a film that was emotionally strong and handled its themes in terrific ways and had one of the most touching scripts of the year. It’s a movie that has something for everybody in it, and it will teach you life lessons about the importance of family and love.
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is a deeply touching and emotionally powerful story about family, love, and death, and contains a gripping performance from Awkwafina.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo
Directed by: Lulu Wang
Distributed by: A24
Release Date: July 12, 2019 (United States)
Running Time: 100 minutes