Review: THE FAREWELL at the Las Vegas Film Festival

By Josh Muchly

It’s timely, stylistic, and heartwarming.

Upshot: When a Chinese family is informed their grandmother (“Nai Nai”) has only a short while left to live, they decide to keep her in the dark about it. They schedule a wedding as an excuse to gather everyone together before she dies, and in an attempt to keep their ruse alive, they don’t invite Billi (Awkwafina) in fear that she’ll tell Nai Nai the truth. But Billi, a headstrong young woman living in NYC, shows up for her cousin’s wedding anyway ….

Rundown: The film by writer/director Lulu Wang closed the Las Vegas Film Festival. It’s timely, stylistic, and heartwarming.

The rationale for hiding a person’s fatal disease from them went something along the lines of: “Cancer doesn’t kill you; worrying about caner kills you.” Maybe there is some sort of metaphysical truth to that, but I’m pretty sure cancer kills people. And, yes, as its stated in the film, “This would be illegal in America.” Indeed, it would! But this is more than a simple story of a young woman navigating family dynamics, it’s an exploration of West and East cultural divides. Individualism versus collectivism; duty verses desire, expectations versus ego;these are issues that many worldwide are contemplating — and will continue to do so.

Lulu Wang does an incredible job as writer and director. From the start — “This film is based on an actual lie.” — we feel the love and the honesty. I am grateful she was willing to share such intimacy, and delighted by the finesse. She guides a host of talented actors portraying mourning characters trying to stay positive and save face; it was quite enjoyable to watch them, especially Tzi Ma, who I watched many, many times in RUSH HOUR during my youth.

Highpoint: Awkwafina. I’m not familiar with her as a musical artist or an actor, though I did enjoy her brief moments in OCEAN’S EIGHT. No matter. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role of Billi! She plays her with the perfect amount of concern and charisma necessary to guide us though the story. Bravo!

Lowpoint: the cousin character bothered me. His level of emotion didn’t fit. The acting was fine, it was the writing. Why was everyone so worried about Billi spilling the beans when her cousin couldn’t — ever! — keep his shit together? A long (if not boring) shot of him bawling uncontrollably at his own wedding detracted from the other tearful moments in the film that were much more engaging, especially the toast from Billi’s uncle — simply beautiful.

Score: 6 out of 7

Postcript: While it isn’t necessary to have felt the burden that comes with the death of a loved to fully engage with the story, having both parents recently pass away unexpectedly certainly made my experience with it much more relatable.

Follow: @muchlymedia on Twitter (or email josh.muchly@gmail.com)

 

5.00 avg. rating (94% score) - 1 vote

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