When I came out of the cinema, I couldn’t get over how relatable, authentic and nostalgic The Farewell was.
Personally, I’ve always seen movies as a bit of a fantasy land, where characters and their stories are completely made up from the director’s imagination (or are an over-dramatisation of everyday moments that “only happen in the movies”). But watching The Farewell was different – it seemed like I was watching a live snippet of someone’s life, or more specifically, a representation of my own.
It’s also no secret that blockbuster films often lack diversity when it comes to casting and representation, so to see one that’s directed by a Chinese woman, telling her story about going back to the motherland, really rings true to home. Even though Crazy Rich Asians broke the glass ceiling and shook the Asian-Australian/American community with an all Asian cast last year, I think that The Farewell has pushed the boundaries even further by telling a very authentic story about Asian-Australians/Americans, the cultural differences between the East and West, and how it impacts family values.
The Farewell is “based on an actual lie” about Billi and her family, who discover that Nai-Nai (their grandma) is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but decide that it’s best for her not to know. Throughout the film, Billi struggles to come to terms with this otherwise unanimous decision and flies back to China for an extended family gathering, disguised as a wedding for Billi’s cousin.
I found the bulk of the plot rather straight-forward, but I really enjoyed its simplicity – the lack of melodrama really placed the characters, their interactions and raw emotions in the spotlight. That being said, I genuinely don’t think this is necessarily a movie that you would watch purely for the plot or entertainment, but rather, one for you to learn, reminisce and appreciate the differences (or even similarities) between intercultural families.
From the beginning, we’re introduced to the premise of the film being based around white lies, as Billi and Nai-Nai converse on the phone and sprinkle them throughout their call, so that the other person doesn’t have to worry. This initial scene was the perfect balance between caring, playful and definitely relatable. For me, these pockets of scenes where the two interact were incredibly nostalgic, familiar and heartwarming – it was the mutual understanding knowing the struggles of communicating to your family in broken Chinese, discussions about cultural identities and of course, your grandparents stuffing food in your mouth. I think it’s these anecdotes throughout the film, that allowed first and second generation immigrants to connect the story to their own families, ultimately making The Farewell so much more emotionally powerful and entertaining to watch as well.
Above all, The Farewell was shot, edited and arranged beautifully – the muted colour-grading with cooler tones gave the entire film a rather vintage and wistful feel that paralleled the emotions conveyed by the storyline. Not to mention, Awkwafina’s performance as Billi truly showed her growth and acting talent beyond her past comedic roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Oceans 8. On top of that, the dynamic between characters was so genuine and realistic in comparison to typical Asian families, making it seem like they were acted by distant relatives, rather than actors.
After finishing The Farewell, I was left with a feeling of gratitude for my family, an appreciation for my Chinese heritage and an urge to go back to the motherland to visit my extended relatives. It's become a movie that I will hold close to my heart and one that I believe that many of us can relate to and can truly appreciate – If you have the opportunity to still catch it in the cinemas in the next couple days, I couldn’t recommend it more.