The Farewell opens with a text that reads, “Based on an actual lie”, thus beginning our journey into the life of Billi (Awkwafina). Awkwafina plays a version of director Lulu Wang who went through the real life situation depicted in the film. This could have only been born out of real life, this is so personal and written so beautifully.
Billi is a immigrant from China living in New York, an artist trying to make ends meet. Her mother and father (perfectly played by Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) live close but the rest of the family is either back in China. The family finds out that their beloved Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) has terminal cancer and does not have long to live. Instead of telling her, they all decide it would be much easier to lie to her and throw a huge wedding in China so the family has an excuse to get together and say their last goodbyes.
The family drama that follows is so honest, that even though the cultural themes of family and honor are grounded in Chinese tradition, the sincerity in which it deals with the inner-workings of family and dealing with an elephant in the room is easily translatable and extremely relatable.
What makes this movie tick is its amazing cast that makes up the family. Everyone seems to perfect and integral to the story. Anyone who has an outspoken grandmother can relate to the cringe inducing commentary that is inevitably spoken out loud, whether its about a shotgun wedding or if someone looks too skinny or too fat. As the family continues to eat and plan for the wedding it becomes increasingly harder for them to ignore their feelings towards the incoming death, spilling over at the wedding reception when alcohol starts to flow. Billi’s father and uncle start to crack under the responsibility they feel as her sons to carry this burden, leading to a heartbreaking reception speech that shows the real pain and sorrow that is bubbling under the surface. Its not all sadness though, intermixed with some silly and downright hilarious scenes of a tacky photoshoot and a drinking game at the reception the way in which levity is handled shows how strongly this is written.
In the end it is the very human story that resonates. The complexities of saying a final goodbye will bring tears to the hardest of hearts and a screenplay that is near perfect help elevate and make this drama stand out amongst its peers.