Film review: “THE FAREWELL”, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Chinese-American film The Farewell tells what initially seems like a predictable story of a family trying to cope with a loved-one’s terminal illness but infuses this with refreshing and often very moving honesty.

In a wonderfully unaffected performance, Awkwafina, stars as Billi, a 30-year-old Chinese-American woman struggling to survive financially and succeed professionally in New York. Frequent phone chats with her grandma in China help her cope with life. After hearing from her parents that grandma is terminally ill, Billi is shocked to learn that, according to Chinese custom, the family won’t tell grandma she’s dying; instead they’ve decided to stage a fake wedding so everyone can be around grandma one final time.

The film sensitively depicts Billi’s struggle to bottle her emotions: both sadness at her beloved grandma’s illness and incredulity and anger as this seemingly strange custom of deceiving the ill person. The film explores this cultural clash in a thoughtful and touching manner. In so doing, the film also reveals the difficult balance between Billi’s Chinese heritage and American upbringing. As Billi – a character apparently based on director Lulu Wang – Awkwafina delivers just the right balance of concern, stoicism and warmth.

The script, also by Lulu Wang, gives sufficient space to other characters allowing a collection of strong performances. Particularly impressive are Diana Lin as Billie’s harshly pragmatic mother, Jiang Yongbo as her philosophical uncle and Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai, Billi’s feisty grandmother.

The film mixes in some quirky comedy which is thankfully restrained but still seems a little awkward under the circumstances.

Filmed in a low-key style with slightly murky cinematography, The Farewell is not exactly a visual feast but the emphasis here is on character and emotion rather than cinematic spectacle.

The terminal illness drama can often be an exercise in cliché but The Farewell treats the material with impressive maturity, inventiveness and heart.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Lulu Wang.

Release date: 5th Sep 2019.

Running time: 98 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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