When artist Billi discovers her beloved Nai Nai doesn’t have long to live, she naturally wants to leave New York and travel back to China with her parents; there’s only one slight hitch – they don’t want her there. The family know the young woman will be over-emotional and, since they’ve already decided not to tell her grandmother about her terminal condition (a common practice within Asian culture), they’re concerned she will not be able to keep quiet.
The family have everything arranged. Billi’s poor cousin Hao Hao is marrying a girl he barely knows, so everyone will have a happy reason to suddenly visit Nai Nai after all this time. But Billi is one headstrong, independent woman so when she turns up in China for the “wedding” her grandma is clearly the only one delighted to see her, as the rest of the family brace themselves for their plan to unravel.
Fresh from her runaway success in Crazy Rich Asians, American rapper and actress Awkwafina adopts a more natural approach to her character here; she’s still compelling and effortlessly engaging in Lulu Wang’s absorbing comedy drama about a dysfunctional family, keeping secrets and dealing with grief, but it’s restrained, leaving the extravagance to an utterly beguiling Zhao Shuzhen as her beloved Nai Nai, who gets most of the best lines and steals all her other scenes.
With elements from her life and own grandmother’s health (as the film explains it’s “based on an actual lie”), writer/director/producer Lulu Wang (Posthumous) beautifully explores the complexities of being an immigrant and walking that line between two distinct cultures, as Billi grapples with when to follow tradition and when to go with her heart.
Every character is wonderfully portrayed and while it’s achingly funny watching the duty-bound bride and groom preparing for a wedding neither one is ready for, or universally recognisable to see the resentment of an, on the outside, daughter-in-law, some might argue that continuous family dinners and keeping granny in the dark can only go so far.
Thankfully, this part-subtitled movie is prevented from descending into stagnated farce by the many relatable sparks of human interaction and moments of genuine affection. From unplanned laughter to revealing pathos, there’s mixed emotion baked into every scene as we witness how Billi navigates the impact of her trip back to her birth place, the choices made around her and the effect this will have upon the future and the unique woman she’s becoming.
Billi and Nai Nai’s chemistry is amazing, the tenderness and understanding between these two just sparkles off the screen, and thanks to an impressive array of talent in front of and behind the camera (with Wang justifiably being acclaimed as a filmmaker to watch), this charming tale (created with the support of Sundance) became an immediate hit when it premiered in the US in January. The Farewell most likely won’t reach the worldwide success of Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s a deeply emotive story that will touch the soul with its warmth and insightful comedy.
The Farewell does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about Sundance London 2019 visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for The Farewell here: