The Farewell film review: personal yet universal story

The Farewell.
The Farewell.

BASED on an “actual lie”, The Farewell is an ode to family that will make you want to call your grandmother.

When family matriarch Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed with cancer, her relatives decide not to tell her so she can remain happy in her last few months.

Granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina), having moved to the US when she was six years old, struggles to reconcile this plan with her own grief as her family come together in China to celebrate the marriage of her cousin – or at least that is what they are telling Nai Nai.

Billi is the fictional stand-in for director Lulu Wang whose own family told the same lie to her grandmother, and the specificity of the story makes it obvious the film is coming from a personal place.

The Farewell.

While Billi’s American upbringing sharply highlights the differences between her adopted culture and her inherited one, her feelings around her sense of belonging are complicated and intricate as memories of her younger self in China remind her of a time before she was made to feel different.

Although we see the story through Billi’s eyes, The Farewell is just as much about the family as a whole, examining the contrast between those relatives who moved away to further their own success and those who remained and believe that a person’s first duty should be towards the family unit.

Wang beautifully frames scenes in New York and Changchun with a distinct colour palette and uses editing to heighten the comedic aspects.

With grounded performances from every actor, The Farewell proves that the most personal story can often be the most universal.

 

THE ESSENTIALS

The Farewell (PG)

Directed by: Lulu Wang

Starring: Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Tzi Ma

Review by: Lucy Rutherford

Four stars

In cinemas now

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