Director: Lulu Wang
Writer: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao, Diana Lin
A Chinese family discovers that their grandmother (Zhao) is suffering from terminal cancer but decide to hide the truth from her. The family organise a fake wedding so to reunite and say their goodbyes, however as some of the family members now live in the west and have been accustomed to Western culture and attitudes, it leads to clashes.
There is no denying that different cultures have very different ideas of what ‘family’ means, and here in the west it does sometimes feel like just a word that has no actual meaning. The Farewell is one of those films that explores these cultural differences in a very effective and engaging way without ever being patronising or preachy.
Many have described The Farewell as one of the best films of the year. I must admit that I fail to have quite such a high regard for this film. For me the best films that world cinema has to offer contain certain elements, themes or images that stay with me for a long time (such as in 2019 so far there has been Foxtrot, Capernaum, Sunset and Burning), but The Farewell is in my view (and I know this will sound slightly patronising) a really nice and watchable film with some very simple but effective themes at its core, but it is not particularly life-changing or memorable. While watching there is no doubt that we the viewer care about the characters, but once the film is finished it will not linger long in the memory.
The Farewell is certainly a film with a lot of great elements; it is a film that explores some very basic and simple themes, but I mean this as a compliment, as these simple themes are also very relatable to every viewer no matter what part of the world they come from or their own individual family background. By using the very simple (but effective) narrative tool of having one part of the Chinese family being accustomed to Western traditions it allows the narrative to explore the different customs of the two cultures. Thankfully it never tries to pick the two off against each other or try to state one as more superior than the other, the film just allows these differences to drive the narrative and allows the viewer to get to know the characters, and how they individually deal with the grief reveals who they are.
Most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of Awkwifina’s Billi, who has spent most of her life in America and is therefore more accustomed to the Western ideology of family. Awkwifina (who had the misfortune of starring in the abysmal Ocean’s 8) is very good in her role, as indeed are all the characters, and throughout the narrative many members of the family are given their own individual moment, and so we are given many relatable and engaging characters that we can engage with. While it is on the screen there is no denying that The Farewell is very watchable film, and due to its intentional simplicity, bittersweet tone and very real characters, it is very easy to watch and genuinely care about all the characters involved. However, once the credits start to roll there is nothing for me that has happened within the narrative that will last long in the memory.
A genuinely enjoyable and engaging film with some great performances, but for all of its simplistic and relatable qualities, there is nothing about The Farewell that will live long in the memory.