Sundance 2019: “The Farewell” Review
Every film festival, there are bound to be films that I go into not knowing much at all about them. I had heard that this film was great, but didn’t want to know anything else about it before I saw it. I’m so glad that I listened to the buzz and went to see Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Awkwafina plays Billi, a young Chinese woman living in America trying to figure out her future when the bomb is dropped in her lap that her grandmother, her nai nai, is dying. Despite living in the United States, Billi is still very close with her grandmother and wants to be with her in her final days. When her parents explain to her that her grandmother can’t know that she is dying, Billi is confused and conflicted. She travels to China to see her grandmother, using her cousin’s wedding as an excuse and learns more about her family as she goes along.
The Farewell is an incredibly moving film that manages to authentically capture the delicate balance between sadness and humor during depressing times. The film uses this difficult time to display the full range of the family’s emotions without having to tell her grandmother that she is ill. This may seem strange to Americans, as it did to me as I was watching, but through the film, you learn that this is a common practice in China that families decide on together.
Awkwafina was the surprise of Sundance for me. In the film, I expected her to be much more like her slightly over the top character from Crazy Rich Asians, but this role is different. Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments of humor and comedy with Awkwafina in this film, but what moved me was her highly sensitive moments where she talked about her grandmother or opened up to show some vulnerability and emotion. The cast as a whole had great chemistry together, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship and chemistry between Billi (Awkwafina) and her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen). Their moments together are compelling and genuine, further accentuating the pain and emotions they are both feeling and feeding it right to the audience.
Lulu Wang’s script is overflowing with authenticity, honesty, and humor. It portrays a family in a very trying time but never loses itself in being overly sentimental or trite. It remains relevant and realistic and reaches out to the audience on a level that is universal: love for family. Every aspect of the film is stunning from the visuals and performances to the score. Alex Weston’s score is beautifully done and works seamlessly into the film to accentuate the beauty, tragedy, and sadness in the story, but also the happiness and joy of being around family. What Lulu Wang has created in The Farewell is a profoundly moving and emotionally charged story that captures the love of a family coming together and appreciating the things that matter. Deeply personal and compelling, The Farewell is easily my favorite film of Sundance 2019.