Director-writer Lulu Wang's true family story is told by a cast of talented actors with identifiable credibility.
"The Farewell" is director-writer Lulu Wang's true family story. But we learn right off the bat that it's "based on an actual lie."
A Chinese-American young woman living in New York City, Billi (Awkwafina), converses daily with her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou), who lives in Changchun, China. When Billi's parents tell her that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only three months to live, she's devastated. They also reveal that the entire family has decided it's best if Nai Nai does not know she's about to die.
Instead, they plan to gather the entire family in Changchun to celebrate an impromptu wedding as a ruse. Billi, known for an inability to hide her emotions, is advised by her parents not to attend the "festivities." But out of love for Nai Nai, she unexpectedly shows up, conflicted by decision to deceive her grandmother. And for the remainder of the film, Billi struggles to keep the secret.
In this dramedy, Wang ("Posthumous") has created a cultural narrative that addresses traditional values versus assimilation into alternative environments. But it's also universal in its message that all families have issues. At times, "The Farewell" wanders aimlessly into sentimentality and we get bogged down by the redundancy of the lie being upheld. At others, we are amused by the antics of the characters and their brutal observations.
The cast play off of one another with identifiable credibility. We all have been where these people are and camaraderie develops between audience and actors. Shuzhen Zhou delivers a stand-out performance in this — her first film. Perhaps at age 75, a star is born. Other memorable performances in the film involve professional criers (hired for funerals) and a dog who sings on command.
"The Farewell" demonstrates what we, as human beings, have in common with one another all over the world: the importance of families in our lives.