Movie Review: The Farewell

By Andrew Breazeale, Staff Writer
[A24; 2019]
Rating: 8/10

Everyone has a family. No matter who you are, where you come from or how your life ends up, every person in the world has a family. Whether it is chosen or biological, humans rely on that familial connection for emotional, physical and material support in all aspects of their lives. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell draws on these connections and creates a relevant family story that mirrors all others like it. Direct and to the point, Wang’s second feature film is one that will leave you with tears, laughter and a sense of duty to those that came before you. 

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Centering on the character Billi, played by the talented Awkwafina, and her grandma, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), The Farewell is a story about the reality of Chinese tradition and how it functions in the modern-day. Specifically, many Chinese families choose to withhold the information that someone is dying – usually from the person that is passing away. That’s just what Billi’s family does, refusing to tell Nai Nai the truth about her physical health and planning a covert trip to China under the guise of a fake wedding. Although this may seem like a cruel and unusual punishment to some, this Eastern tradition places emphasis on the family unit as a whole. In this culture, it is normal for the family to take on the burden of guilt and regret that often comes with death to help make the passing of their loved ones easier. Wang not only displays this in great detail but takes it one step further and exposes the audience to the raw and unchanneled emotions that the family experiences. 

By placing both herself and the audience in Billi’s shoes, Wang brings a sense of realness and authenticity to this movie that elevates it to an emotional masterpiece. Using her life experiences as a guide, she creates an atmosphere of legitimacy surrounding the characters and their emotions, captivating the audience with alternating feelings of hope and despair. The powerful performances from Awkwafina and Shuzhen masterfully convey the feeling of foreboding that slowly creeps up throughout the film’s runtime. As a reflection of Wang, it’s easy to see why Awkwafina is incredibly brilliant in this movie. She embodies the forceful and compelling sentiments of Wang’s personal experiences while slowly elevating the movie’s emotional sentiments.

There’s no way to avoid talking about the gorgeous cinematography and framing that makes this movie so much more powerful than just a story about someone’s grandma. The constantly shifting position of the camera and its angles brings about an intense feeling of uneasiness that reminds the audience of what they, like the family, know what will inevitably happen. The film provides little bits of comedy to create a juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, but the lingering close-ups and the seemingly endless scenes always draw the audience back into the anxiety-ridden atmosphere surrounding Billi’s family. Although some of the scenes can be a little disorienting, the overall tone set by Wang’s cinematography heightens the anxiety and fear that pervades every shot in the film.

When the final scenes come around, the movie reaches its greatest potential, tying up all of the pain, sadness, and fear Billi and her family feels in a neat little package and chucking it in the audience’s face. Of course, tears are almost guaranteed, but by the end of the film, most of them will have been shed already. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is hardly short of perfect and nothing more than cinematic genius. It’s apparent that she pours her heart and soul into this project and this astounding film can only expand our excitement about what she’ll do next. 

Watch the trailer here:


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