30 September 2019 | proud_luddite
Outstanding Screenplay by Wang
Billi Wang (Akwafina) is a young aspiring writer in New York whose family had immigrated from China when she was six years old. She maintains a happy telephone relationship with her paternal grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) who still lives in China in the city of Changchun. Billi's family has received news from another relative that Nai Nai is dying of lung cancer. The extended families travel to Changchun to celebrate the wedding of Billi's cousin although the collective intention is really to say goodbye to Nai Nai - while withholding the news from her that she is dying.
Throughout the film - and especially by the end, it is very clear that is biographical and based on the experiences of the film's talented writer/director Lulu Wang. The story is rich for various reasons including its unique take on the universal theme of dealing with the impending death of a beloved elderly relative.
Billi is also a stand-in for many "new world" North Americans who would find it terribly wrong to withhold from anyone the fact that they are dying. Her points are well expressed but so are the contradictory replies from her elders and those more in line with a Chinese cultural tradition of such secrecy. The reply to the question "who's right" is answered in Nai Nai's laid-back, content demeanour (when not coughing), totally oblivious to her diagnosis. This is one of the fascinating surprises of "The Farewell" in its acquiescence to old-world values in subtle ways. Here, Wang must be given credit for her humility. She seems to have nodded to a sarcastic quote attributed to Oscar Wilde: "I am not young enough to know everything".
The main story is powerful enough; yet Wang adds to the wealth by delving into the immigration experience - for those who left their homeland as well as those left behind. Here again, she takes on a universal theme. In conversations and monologues, the viewer hears what it is like to lose all of one's children (two sons in this case) as they leave the homeland (Nai Nai's other son emigrated to Japan). Billi also has a powerful monologue of what it was like to leave behind an extended family and community when she was six. While intelligently avoiding platitudes, the film asks: is there really a 'better life' somewhere else?
The fine cast does justice to Wang's eloquent story. Awkwafina fits well in the lead role and Zhao's Nai Nai is so loveable that she makes it very easy to see why so many would grieve her impending death. One particular scene stands out even though it is brief: Billi's mother (Diana Lin) quietly avoiding eye contact in a taxi while fighting back tears. In less than a minute, Lin conveys an experience of every adult at least once in our lives.
RATING: 9 out of 10
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Screenplay by Lulu Wang