Most films are either formed from an original, creative idea, or they’re based on a true story. The Farewell is rooted in the latter, by being based on the life of director, Lulu Wang, all while showcasing an incredible cast.
More than anything, The Farewell is a heartbreaking and beautiful story of Chinese culture, woven together through emotional burden, love and loss and the importance of family.
It’s a tradition in Chinese culture that when their elders get sick, the family is expected to carry the emotional burden by omitting the truth about the state of their elders’ health. Wang pulls inspiration from her own life experiences to portray a story about a family lying to their grandmother about the state of her health while she is dying of cancer.
Though it may seem like a sad concept, it’s a testament to the level of care and commitment toward family in Chinese culture. That reason, among many others, is why The Farewell is an extremely important film for Americans to see — to get a taste of Chinese culture.
Wang’s cast for the film is nothing but phenomenal. Shuzhen Zhao takes the lead as the lovable Nai Nai in her breakout performance. Awkwafina runs point as Billi, Nai Nai’s granddaughter, and the actress takes a departure from her more comedic side to a more serious role that shows her acting chops. Awkwafina exceeds any expectations and fills the role with endless amounts of depth and emotional intensity while also being relatable and honest.
Other notable performances are Yongbo Jiang, who plays Billi’s uncle, and Han Chen, who plays his son, Hao Hao. Both men are extremely vulnerable and honest in their performances, and they share some tear-jerking moments with the audience that are sure to stay ingrained in their memories when the film is finished.
Not only is the film a great piece of exposure of Chinese culture to American audiences, but the film is also predominantly spoken in Chinese with English subtitles. Though films with subtitles can sometimes discourage audience attendance, the film has an effective way to make a foreign film more mainstream.
A large critique of the film is that it seems hesitant with the acting and storyline. However, the hesitant, slow burn nature is what sets the film apart. On the surface it seems negative, and some may wish Wang would’ve pushed harder, but it’s actually an incredibly insightful mirroring of Chinese culture. A huge part of Chinese culture is its subtlety, with loud and large elegance, and the film doesn’t dive too deep because it’s echoing Chinese culture.
The camerawork in the film is beautifully done, but what really makes it great is its pairing with the music. The film’s score is true to the culture and has a melancholic tone to it, which perfectly accents the tone of the film. Many times in the film, there are scenes where the characters are walking or crying with nothing but the music, and it’s extremely haunting and moving.
The Farewell is a heartbreaking story based on real events, but it goes further than that. The film is also a great look into Chinese culture and the importance of family, and it is beautifully done by Wang. It’s definitely a must-see that will have audiences in tears and thinking about the film for a while afterward.