“The Farewell” is a small, indie flick that is generating a lot of early awards buzz with it’s quiet, somber story about family and grief.
But in that grief, “The Farewell” tells a really nice story with an easily likable cast. Rapper and up-and-coming actor Awkwafina is a real standout as the main character. If nothing else, the movie provides a fascinating look into certain aspects of East Asian culture.
“The Farewell” was too small to get a wide release in major theaters, but the Capitol Cinema managed to snag a copy last week.
Billi’s grandmother in China has been diagnosed with cancer, with only three months left to live — but it is a custom in China not to tell the person, so that their last months are not consumed by fear and sadness. The family decides to hold a fake wedding for Billi’s cousin, giving everybody an excuse to head back to China to say their final farewells, but they can’t let grandma know that this really is the last time she’ll ever see them.
Billi, who has spent most of her life in America, has to wrap her head around how crazy this all sounds, while also coming to terms with how important it is for her heritage.
Despite the weird stage name, Awkwafina has been carving out a real name for herself as an up-and-coming actor. “The Farewell” is her first dramatic role, and she seems to easily forgo her more wild and crazy antics for a quiet, emotional performance. She keeps the movie grounded and carries the audience through all stages of grief.
Alongside Awkwafina, most of the rest of the cast is just as likable, especially longtime Chinese actor Shzuhen Zhao as the grandmother, Nai Nai. The relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is touching and warm, even with the gulf of the lie between them.
And that is the magic of “The Farewell”: even though death and grief are the focus of the film, it finds a way to narrow in on the good feelings and emotions that come with all of that. “The Farewell” is never maudlin or mawkish about cancer. It instead focuses on the cheerful, emotional bonds of family.
There’s also a fascinating exploration on the differences between American and Chinese culture. In the West, we focus on the individual, but in the East, the movie says they focus on the unit, on the family.
Seeing “The Farewell” may be difficult because of how small the independent film is, but it’s worth the effort for such a meaningful little film.