I saw “The Farewell” today and left the theatre knowing that I’d just watched a movie that I’ll remember for a long time and use as a benchmark for other movies.
It tells the story of Chinese American woman, Billi (Awkwafina) whose Chinese grandmother Nai Nai (Shunzen Zhao) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but, in line with Chinese custom; the diagnoses is being hidden from her to prevent her being fearful in her final months. Under the guise of celebrating the marriage of Billi’s cousin, the family gathers in China to make their indirect but deeply felt, farewells to Nai Nai.
This is a film that does everything well: the storytelling is intimate without being drenched in sentimentality; the script sparkles without feeling false; the camerawork guides the emotions without being obtrusive.
All of the performances are strong but the chemistry between Awkwafina and Shunzen Zhao was exceptional.
The film focuses on the adjustments that Billi, who left China for America when she was six, not just between American and Chinese cultures but between her family situation in America, where it’s just her and her parents, and her situation in China where she has many relations from mutiple generations. It seemed to me that family ended up being more important than the passport carried and that Grandmother and Grandaughter understood one another well.
To see why “The Farewell” won the Audience Award at the 2019 Sundance London film festival, watch the trailer below.