We all need to call our grandmothers right now.
Would you believe that it took me three attempts to finally see The Farewell (2019)? The first two times I tried to get tickets they were completely sold out and even the third time, the theatre was packed when I sat down! Maybe this is a lesson from the Universe to me: Don’t assume you can get last minute tickets to a super popular movie the day before you want to post a review of it. The multiple attempts were well worth it however, because after seeing The Farewell…wow, was this a special movie.
“Based on an actual lie,” The Farewell follows Billi Wang and her family as they discover that Nai Nai, Billi’s grandmother, has terminal cancer. Wishing to shield Nai Nai from the pain and sorrow, the family decides not to tell her about the diagnosis and instead stage an elaborate wedding as an excuse to gather their friends and family for one final goodbye.
Since it premiered at Sundance back in January I have heard nothing but overwhelmingly positive things about this movie. Written and directed by Lulu Wang, whose family serves as the real-life inspiration for the movie, The Farewell is unlike anything I’ve seen this summer. There have been dramedies that have walked the line between both genres before but perhaps none as masterfully as this. A spectacular and thoroughly-entertaining blend of both drama and comedy, The Farewell is a practically perfect movie that proves itself to be as heartwarming as it is hilarious. One minute you’re swept away in the intense feelings of distress, guilt and worry the Wang family have for Nai Nai, and the next you’re doubled over with laughter at the movie’s wildly relatable and subtle humour. Often times the movie will distract you with its wonderfully quirky and charming brand of comedy, and then it’ll hit you with the reality of what the family is going through. With The Farewell, you don’t just run the emotional gamut. You run it like you’re Usain Bolt at the Olympics.
Wang is a fantastic writer. Anyone who can craft a sharp, concise, fast-paced story that does so much while doing so little is a winner in my book. Her script feels effortless and simple while still managing to explore deep themes and hit you right in the feels. Just wait until the tear-jerking finale. The dramatic irony of we, the audience, knowing what’s going to happen to Nai Nai before she does and having to watch her family members keep their composure as they say their final goodbyes…it’s a beautifully acted and written scene that will move you to tears. My hand to God, you should have heard the amount of sniffling noses and choked sobs I heard in that theatre as the movie’s end inched closer. I don’t think I’ve witnessed a movie ending that impactful since Toy Story 3 (2010)! Even me, who doesn’t normally get misty-eyed during movies was tearing up!
When you’re not shedding tears of despondency at the astoundingly-written and powerful story at the heart of The Farewell, you’ll be shedding tears of joy at its many laugh-out-loud hilarious scenes. The comedy is decidedly subdued and subtle, finding the humour that is to be found in each of our everyday experiences and relationships. Once again it proves that when it comes to comedy, the things that are the truest are often the funniest. Charmingly intimate, The Farewell doesn’t need to do much to slap a smile on your face. You know, this could have easily been a flat-out, crude comedy (“haha, let’s try and keep this horrible secret from Nai Nai!”) but by grounding the story with the real-life drama and humour that inspired it, Wang adds another layer of intrigue to the story. It makes for an overall more endearing and interesting movie that demands our attention.
You know what else demands our attention? The truly phenomenal performance by Awkwafina. I’ve previously seen Awkwafina in Ocean’s Eight (2018) where she didn’t particularly stand out for me (hard to in a cast like that) and Crazy Rich Asians (2018) where she not only stood out but stole the entire show! A difficult task because that movie saw her once again acting alongside an impeccable cast. I’ve known Awkwafina as the comedic relief so I was interested to see how she’d fare in her debut as a dramatic leading lady. Though I believe she already proved it with Crazy Rich Asians, her role as Billi in The Farewell solidified it: Awkwafina is a STAR. Whether she’s playing the guilt and dread of her Nai Nai’s condition, the understandably frustrated outbursts at her parents, or the touching and hilariously unique relationship she shares with Nai Nai, Awkwafina knocks every scene she’s in out of the park. Mark my words, a Golden Globe nomination will be hers with an Oscar nomination not far behind. Oh, and I’ll be damned if Zhao Shuzhen, who plays Nai Nai, doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actress nomination as well. Together Awkwafina and Shuzhen nail the bond between grandmother and grandchild, conveying every emotion you’ve ever experienced with your own beloved relative. Seriously, this movie could have literally just starred the two of them and I wouldn’t object at all.
At its core, The Farewell is a movie about family. It’s about the wonderful sense of togetherness and loyalty that binds them, as well as the differences that can cause tension and division. But for better or for worse, they have each other and the underlying message of unconditional love rings loud and clear from the beginning of the movie to the end. Wang captures the beauty of family in every way it presents itself, making this feature film feel like the best documentary you’ve seen in a long time. Hey, maybe we can get The Farewell nominated for Best Documentary Feature as well! It’s worth a shot. This movie deserves all the recognition it can get.
Will you see The Farewell?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!