You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe at awkward speeches – The Farewell is like any good family wedding, or any good funeral come to think of it. In her sophomore feature, writer-director Lulu Wang successfully navigates the tricky transition from life to film with this achingly personal story of love, loss and lies.
The Farewell is remarkable in how it plays with the familiar and unfamiliar. Half the film’s audience will struggle to comprehend the cultural norms that move the story forward, but we can all see our own family around the same dinner table, quirks and all. A strong cast ground The Farewell, balancing the ridiculous with the relatable as they bond, argue and then start drinking. Despite teetering on the edge of farcical, the film is held together by this chemistry.
It’s a family story but first and foremost we’re following Billie, reluctant mourner and author stand-in. Best known for her comedic roles, Awkwafina is heartbreaking as Billie – Wang only has to cut back to her to remind us of the real stakes behind the farce. Awkwafina shines in her first lead performance, although the film is completely stolen from under her by Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai. Shuzhen charges through The Farewell, a thundering force of love in the way only a grandmother can be. Her performance makes the film all the funnier, and all the more devastating, as we get to know the matriarch this family is about to lose.
Deftly balancing heart and humour, The Farewell is a success on all counts. Those familiar with the story from podcast This American Life might be slightly disappointed to lose their favourite anecdote, but don’t fret – now you’ve got a fantastic film you can recommend instead.
CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Gil Perez-Abraham, Zhao Shuzhen
DIRECTOR: Lulu Wang
WRITER: Lulu Wang
SYNOPSIS: A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decides to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.