Based on an Actual Lie

Jian Yongbo, Kmamura Aio, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Ziang, Tzi Ma, Lu Hong and Zhao Shuzhen appear in a still from The Farewellby Lulu Wang, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtsey of Sundance Institute | photo by Big Beach All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Lulu Wang‘s story of an independent Chinese-American woman returning to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, is nothing less but captivating. From the very first shot inside a hospital, the director invites you to tag along with this Chinese family, while they struggle to keep the truth from grandma and decide to stage a wedding, just to see her one last time.

Billi (Awkwafina), a twenty-something millennial, lives her life like most New Yorkers do – barely able to pay rent and on the lookout for a new job, she still goes home to mom and dad to do her laundry, knowing well enough she’ll have to endure the parental comments while under the same roof. When her mother (Diana Lin) announces the imminent wedding of Billi’s cousin, she realises something isn’t right. Pressured by Billi’s suspicion, her parents quickly confess to the terminal state her grandma Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is in. Shocked by the news, it doesn’t take long before they all end up around the dinner table at Nai Nai back in China, faking their true feelings around the clock.

Wang knows how to direct this tragically heartfelt story in a way not only Chinese families can relate. I, for one, could definitely look back at how my family used to keep secrets from certain relatives, just to “protect” them. Billi’s family has problems of their own, with underlying tensions waiting to rise to the surface, and no one is holding back.

Anna Franquesa Solano‘s cinematography is a beauty. Most of the time, it’s as if you’re walking through an art gallery – strolling past one lifelike portrait after another. Truly exquisite is the way she captures the feelings of each individual. The vulnerability and sadness in their eyes, conflict with the constant “joie-de-vivre” the old Nai Nai still has going for her.

Everyone knows how good Awkwafina is at comedy, but who knew she’d be able to peel off every layer of that mask, to get to the core of her vulnerable emotions? She and Shuzhen are two peas in a pod, when it comes to giving groundbreaking performances. Shuzhen touches you in a way you can’t imagine. An old lady with a big heart and a big mouth, keeping traditions alive while holding her own family together. The gloominess of her diagnosis lingers like a storm, which transcends into a mostly ominous score by Alex Weston.

With The Farewell, A24 can add another classic to their collection, which will go down in the history books as a turning point for Awkwafina and Lulu Wang’s careers. A tragically beautiful story that makes you homesick and wants you to hold on to what we sometimes take for granted. Coming home has never been more therapeutic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review – The Farewell

Reviewed at Event George Street, Sept. 9, 2019. ACB-Rating: PG. Running time: 100 min.

PRODUCTION: A Roadshow Entertainment release of a A24, Big Beach Films, Depth of Field, Kindred Spirit production. Producers: Anita Gou, Daniele Tate Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng. Executive producer: Eddie Rubin.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Lulu Wang. Camera (color, widescreen): Ana Franquesa Solano. Editor: Matt Friedman, Michael Taylor. Music: Alex Weston.

WITH: Zhao Shuzhen, Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Li Xiang, Lu Hong, Yang Xuejian, Aoi Mizuhara

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