The Farewell Movie Details

Directed by Lulu Wang
Produced by
  • Daniele Melia
  • Peter Saraf
  • Marc Turtletaub
  • Andrew Miano
  • Chris Weitz
  • Jane Zheng
  • Lulu Wang
  • Anita Gou
Screenplay by Lulu Wang
Based on What You Don’t Know by Lulu Wang
Starring
  • Awkwafina
  • Tzi Ma
  • Diana Lin
  • Zhao Shuzhen
  • Lu Hong
  • Jiang Yongbo
Music by Alex Weston
Cinematography Anna Franquesa Solano
Edited by
  • Michael Taylor
  • Matthew Friedman
Production companies
  • Ray Productions
  • Big Beach
  • Depth of Field
  • Kindred Spirit
Distributed by A24
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (Sundance)
  • July 12, 2019 (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language
  • English
  • Mandarin
Budget $3 million
Box office $19.5 million

 

This movie opens with the line “based on an actual lie”, due to the fact that the story is based on the real life events of director Lulu Wang. When it’s discovered that Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), the matriarch of a Chinese family, is dying, by tradition the family decides not to tell her that she’s ill, instead of bearing the weight of the news on their shoulders. As a means to gather the family together to see Nai Nai before she dies, they orchestrate a fake wedding to bring all the family back to China. Having lived in America for most of her life, granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) is conflicted about whether the right thing to do is to tell her grandmother of her illness or follow the Chinese tradition of keeping it a secret.

This film has received a lot of positive reactions online, with a few people even suggesting Oscar nominations. I can fully understand why there has been such a reaction, given the personal nature of the story, as well as the fascinating culture clash aspect of the plot. Me personally though, I had mixed reactions.

What I enjoyed most about the film was the score. I thought there was a peaceful, almost melancholy, sound to it that blended perfectly with the story being told.

I also thought the performances (particularly of the actresses) were impressive. Most reviewers have heaped praise upon Awkwafina and Zhao, rightly so as they were both very good. Awkwafina, in particular, surprised me with a fantastic display of dramatic acting. So far I’ve only known her as a comedic supporting actress, so it was great to see this side of her.

The name that hasn’t been mentioned so much, to my surprise, has been that of Diana Lin, who plays Billi’s mum Lu Jian. I thought that she did an excellent job as the voice of reason, trying her best to guide Billi in the ways of morality. To some extent, I suspect she thought that Nai Nai deserved to know the truth, but due to her respect for tradition she would never have done so, or let others do so. There’s a scene where she explains to Billi that it’s the fear of knowing you’re dying which takes you quicker, and so shielding a person from that fear is thought to lead to the person surviving a little longer. It was a really thought provoking scene, performed brilliantly by Lin and Awkwafina.

Much of this movie relies on emotion, be it sadness or comedy, as a means of telling the story. I know from reading reviews that many people felt emotion while watching this film. One of my biggest issues was that unfortunately, I did not feel the emotions that the film intended. I smiled, but at no point did I ever laugh; and despite the nature of the plot I never felt particularly sad. I get emotional quite often while watching films, and yet for some reason, there were no tears this time – not even a lump in my throat. I wish I knew why it was that this movie failed to have an emotional connection with me, but the fact that it didn’t let me ever so slightly cold.

Perhaps it had something to do with the pacing, which at times became pretty slow. Things were great at the beginning, while Billi and her parents were in America. Things picked up again towards the end when they held the fake wedding. For much of the middle, however, there were just far too many scenes of people having long conversations, many of which were of little importance. I don’t feel good about saying this, but at times I did feel like this film was a bit of a drag.

I also left the cinema slightly confused about the film’s ending. I won’t discuss it for spoiler reasons, except to say that I’m very curious about how the real-life family has handled the situation. Basically what I’m saying is that there are unanswered questions; and if you’re a regular reader of my reviews you’ll be aware that, in most cases, I do not like it when films conclude with unanswered questions.

All in all, it saddens me to have to write this review with such mixed feelings. Having been aware of the buzz surrounding this film, as well as the interest in regards to it being based on a true story, I just wish I could have liked it more. As I’ve discussed there are certainly some major positives – particularly the score and performances. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for me on an emotional level. I don’t say this often for films I rate 6/10, but I would still recommend seeing The Farewell. Even if it wasn’t one of my favorite films of the year, it did make me think about different cultures; and whether morally there is a right or wrong way of handling such a situation.

 

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