Based on a true story, or “based on an actual lie” as the movie states, “The Farewell” is the tale of a Chinese grandmother (the matriarch of the family) who has a terminal illness, but doesn’t know it. Instead of telling her, her family decides to stage a fake wedding in order to bring everyone together to say goodbye. This lie is meant to make her final interaction with her family more of a celebration than a sad farewell. As the story progresses, moral questions revolving what constitutes a “good lie”, arise. That said, it’s a soft comedy (touching moments, with levity) so…you’ll laugh more than you’ll cry; surprisingly. It’s a tender film. It’s a cathartic film.
The highlight of “The Farewell” is the performance of Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s Eight) who plays an American grandchild traveling to China in order to say goodbye to a grandmother she is quite close to. Also, she is the only one in the family who doesn’t agree with keeping this type of secret from a dying person. And, as a Westerner, she was the most relatable character to me.
There is a term in sports (boxing, football, etc) described as “staying in the pocket”. This means that you know contact is coming, but unflinchingly choose not to shy away. This encapsulates Awkwafina’s performance. She emotionally leans into some of the heavier scenes, and not only holds her own, but steals the show.
The story itself transcends race/culture due to the excellent direction of writer/director Lulu Wang. Going into this I held high expectations since the plot synopsis (Wang’s autobiographical story) was so strong. But I was shocked to find that it was her graceful and quite operatic direction which made “The Farewell” so defining throughout. She’ll definitely be a filmmaker to watch.
Final Thought: This may seem like an insensitive statement, but the levity (the fact that this movie wasn’t a complete downer) was the reason that I wasn’t totally blown away, and also the reason I can see this movie as a whole (aside from Awkwafina’s performance) being forgotten come award season. I know. I’m heartless. But I’m right.
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