September 5, 2019 – On the heels of the highly successful romantic comedy, “Crazy Rich Asians,” we have the much more sombre U.S. version of an Asian drama with some comedy, “The Farewell,” which is also about family, tradition and Chinese versus American sensibilities against the backdrop of a trade war between America and China.
This is a U.S. production, filmed in China and New York City, with English and Mandarin spoken languages, with English subtitles.
Awkwafina, who played one of the comic characters in “Crazy Rich Asians,” plays the central dramatic character in “The Farewell.” Awkwafina plays Billi Wang, a woman burdened by debt who is struggling to succeed in America. She decides, against the wishes of her parents, to attend a hastily arranged wedding in China which is being staged as a farewell party for Billi's terminally ill grandmother, Nai Nai (played by Zhao Shuzhen).
The reason Billi's parents (played by Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang, as her father and Diana Lin as Jian Wang, her mother) don't want Billi to attend the wedding is that they are afraid she will betray her feelings about the impending death of Nai Nai. The family is following a Chinese tradition of keeping Nai Nai in the dark about her terminal lung cancer diagnosis. Nai Nai's doctor is a part of the conspiracy to keep Nai Nai from knowing her true medical condition. This would not be possible in America.
Billi, and other family members, struggle with the effort to keep Nai Nai's condition a secret as they debate among themselves whether they should tell Nai Nai the truth. As hoped, Nai Nai embraces her role as family matriarch as she works hard to arrange the wedding. She is happy in this work while everyone around her tries to mirror that happiness.
Much of this movie is about Billi's emotional turmoil as she tries to reconcile her feelings. She is happy to see Nai Nai again, but she is sad that she hasn't visited her more often in the past. She has an urge to stay in China and take care of Nai Nai, but is not sure how to do that while keeping the secret of Nai Nai's medical condition.
There is a big surprise at the end of this movie, revealed just before the credits roll. It turns out that there may be a lot of wisdom in some old Chinese traditions after all. Awkwafina gives an outstanding performance in this film, along with the rest of the cast in this low key drama. The drama is also lightened with some comedy. American writer-director Lulu Wang does a nice job, along with the cast, of developing these believable characters, who represent a variety of personalities. This film rates a B.
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