The Farewell (Lulu Wang, 2019, USA/China)

    The Farewell is an engaging and moving film. Based on a “true lie” from the life of writer/director Lulu Wang, the film tells the story of Billi, a 30-year old Brooklyn hipster who emigrated from China as a child with her parents. She is at odds with her parents, who want her to make more of herself, and finds solace in conversations with her grandmother (Nai Nai). She soon learns that her grandmother has terminal cancer, and that her parents and family will be visiting her for a cousin’s wedding, but will not be revealing the diagnosis to Nai Nai. The ethics of this decision provide the thematic current of the film, on both a personal and wider scale.
    At the individual level, we see Billi struggling to keep her composure and not reveal the truth to Nai Nai. This brings her into conflict with her mother - excellently played by Diana Lin - who expresses resentment over Chinese culture’s insistence on always expressing the “right” emotion (she cites hired mourners at funerals as an example of this). Meanwhile, we see the focus on appearance also play out in the setting of the film. A hotel that looks nice on the exterior reveals a broken elevator. Everything appears nice on the surface but is dysfunctional beneath.
    Wang’s cultural observations are largely surface-level, but they do perhaps reveal greater insights about Chinese culture and the rapid transformation the country has undergone. The most attention is given to the Chinese immigrants in the film, and their difficulty relating to the country and people they left behind. If there is one weakness of the film, it is that Billi seems to undergo little transformation over the course of the film, and her character feels a bit one-note. This leaves the film feeling a little thin during the home stretch. 

7/10

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