If there is one thing to truly remember about this movie if it ever comes across the topic of conversation…well, two things, is that Awkwafina can truly act and isn’t just a one trick comedy pony, and the ending. If you don’t want the ending of THE FAREWELL spoiled for you, DO NOT go into the trivia section of IMDB or look this up on Wikipedia. The ending brings a whole new light to the entire story and makes you think about deeper meanings and messages of what it means to lie and keep something hidden from someone. It’s a pretty good little film, a dramedy that manages to avoid all the pit falls and cliches of other situational dramedies/comedies that HAVE to have those typical confrontational scenes at the end. But other than Awkwafina and the ending, I do feel that the movie ultimately is going to be pretty forgettable down the line.
The set up is simple, it’s based on an actual lie/actual true story and follows a Chinese family, who find out that their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide not to tell her and instead use a cousin’s upcoming wedding as a front for a family gathering, so that everyone is together one last time before she dies. Awkwafina is front and center, playing the granddaughter Billie. At first the family doesn’t want her to go to the gathering as they think her emotions give her away, but Billie goes anyway and manages to keep the secret to herself. From then on, we get countless scenes before and during the wedding with Billie spending time with her grandmother and the entire family together, and then scenes without the grandmother where Billie is still debating whether they should really tell her or not. Even though the scenes discussing whether the lie is good for everyone or not get quite repetitive, the scenes adds natural and laugh out loud moment to balance the tide. Word of warning, while this is an American film, all the dialogue is really a 70-30 percent ratio of Chinese subtitles and actually spoken American dialogue, which doesn’t bother me at all, just warning you that you might be doing more reading throughout this film than what the trailer online makes you believe.
Like I said above, if there is any reason to watch the film, it’s Awkwafina’s performance, which I think could garner her a well deserved Oscar nomination come awards season (her real name is Nora Lum, which I actually really like and hope that eventually down the road she does a changing back of her name a la The Rock/Dwayne Johnson). Her performance is unlike anything you have ever seen her do before, playing an actual layered mutli-dimensional character, stripped away of all her over-the-top zanyiness you’ve come to recognize her from crazy roles in Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians. She is really spectacular. In the acting department, every one does a good job, from all of the unknowns to Tzi Ma, who plays Billie’s father. The director, Lulu Wang, who mostly directs shorts and music videos, and has only done one other feature, is clearly an actor’s director, getting natural and realistic emotions from everyone involved. Stylistically though, it feels as though she watched one too many episodes of Mr. Robot, as all the shots have characters all to one side of the frame where there is too much space for blank walls and static boring backgrounds. The scenes between Billie and her grandmother are the best, giving the best emotional weight to the narrative.
However, there is one perfect scene in the film, no wasted space or filler, that I’d like to mention. When the cousin groom & his bride are getting pre-wedding pictures taken, Awkwafina and I believe her mother and/or aunt are having a meaningful conversation about “the lie” and the bride & groom taking weird pictures in the background that manages to elicit laughs from the audience but also just enough to not distract from the dialogue taking place. Very well done scene, and I wish there were more than that in there, as all the Mr. Robot cinematography felt kind of bland. I know you are looking for me to talk more about the ending, but since I said no spoilers in the title, all I will say is the ending makes you think even after you are on your way home and you’ll want to do some research on the film once you’ve gotten there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film, I just think down the line it will ultimately be pretty forgettable. If it gets Oscar nominations, I’d be fine with it as long as Awkwafina was included in the mix. This is the film that is going to make me take her seriously as an actress from now on (as you can tell, I know nothing about her rap career).