Sundance London 2019 Preview - The Farewell
Dir: Lulu Wang
Starring Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
“Based on an actual life” (as a title card explains), Lulu Wang’s family drama is a sincere and often moving look at the impending demise of a loved one, and her extended family’s reactions to it. Awkwafina finds her breakout role as granddaughter Billi, making her own way in the world in New York, but called home to China when her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (a delightful Zhou) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As is the Chinese tradition, the family decide not to let Nai Nai know of her condition and opt instead to stage an elaborate wedding, thus allowing all her relatives far and near to come home to visit her, never letting on her true situation.
What could so easily be the set up for a broad farcical comedy, is instead a delicately observed study of family and culture, as Billi struggles to understand the need to keep her beloved grandma in the dark. As the film unfolds however, based around a series of elaborate meals, culminating in the final lavish wedding banquet itself, her conflict leads to understanding and, slowly, some form of acceptance.
Beautifully underplayed by a superb ensemble, and richly observed, with cultural divisions subtly brought to light, rather than heavily emphasised, The Farewell is a quietly moving piece, with a genuinely tender ending.