Elevating Asian American cinema to new heights, director Lulu Wang’s beautiful portrait of a Chinese family’s gathering to farewell its ailing matriarch frames an immigrant experience that’s deeply relatable, not least for Asian diaspora communities, but also any persons scattered to different parts of the globe, away from their roots or loved ones. Joining us for these limited screenings comes with an advisory: bring tissues, because there will be tears.
The Farewell begins with struggling New York artist Billi (Awkwafina, the crazy best friend in Crazy Rich Asians) learning the news that her beloved Nai Nai (grandma) is dying of cancer. In China, Nai Nai’s loyal sister withholds the diagnosis, letting Nai Nai think she has a clean bill of health. Relatives from Japan and the USA fly home under the pretence of a wedding – surrounded by her entire clan, there’s no happier occasion for Nai Nai – and while pretending to celebrate must bear the burden of sadness so she can live her last days in blissful ignorance.
Eschewing broad stereotypes for a nuanced everydayness, Wang’s film is of course sad, but also warm, perfectly strange (the absurdity and illegality of the ruse does not go unnoticed), rich with delicious food, and naturally funny in situations that, as a normal response to death, demand it. The wonderful ensemble cast, particularly Billi’s parents played by veterans Tzi Ma and Diana Lin, subtly agitate and support Awkwafina’s breakthrough central performance; her face and body language a marvel of whole emotions fighting against quiet, dutiful restraint. — Tim Wong
“The Farewell’s plot is based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s own stranger-than-fiction true family story, which was previously featured in a 2016 episode of NPR’s This American Life. But no podcast can prepare anyone for the sophistication of Wang’s filmmaking instincts, exploring themes of transnational families and assumptions of culture shock, especially from Billi’s parents… who call her ‘too American’ to understand this situation. Billi’s journey to return back to the homeland that doesn’t feel quite like home is the fundamental theme of The Farewell. It’s a melancholy that Wang and Awkwafina capture with the perfect cadence.” — Anderson Le, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
“The critical darling [of Sundance] was clearly Lulu Wang’s poignant and personal story of a young lady… dealing with the imminent death of her grandmother... Critics were comparing it to masterful filmmakers like Ang Lee, Edward Yang, and even Ozu Yasujiro in the way it blends cultural specificity with universal emotions. It was also [the] ‘ugly cry’ of the [festival], but it earns that title by never once feeling manipulative or melodramatic. It’s a true empathy machine of a movie, a film that tells a very specific story that’s not your own but allows you to see yourself within it.” — Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com