(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Farewell (2019)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Billi must control her emotions and viewpoint on the terminal diagnosis of her grandmother and learns that sometimes, it’s okay to tell a lie.
Why It’s on the List: I walked into this movie not knowing what to expect. I lived in China for a year and was fascinated by the culture, admiring of many things, dubious of others, and outright hostile about a couple aspects. It was great seeing this in a crowded theater while in Chicago surrounded by a mostly southeastern Asian audience. There was laughter, sniffling, and gasps at the title card before the credits. Man, do I miss going to the theater.
This is a unique movie because although put out by A24, the film is mostly in Mandarin. I have been told that Awkwafina’s accent is dreadful, but in the context of the film, I think it works, and I also would never have known about her terrible accent unless I read about it. I love the small moments, Billi coming out of the airport and being bombarded by a million taxi cab drivers. It’s definitely an experience I also had when traveling through China. I am sure there are other specific details which people could cite.
This was my favorite movie of 2019, even above Parasite. I still think that even after rewatching both. I’m not going to compare the two because the goals of each are so different, and they both hit their marks in different way. I appreciate the film making Billi’s relationships with different family members very specific. I loved the conversation at the table in the restaurant about America versus China. This movie examines what it means to be Asian in America, too Asian to be considered American and too American to be considered Asian. This is a film that tries to reckon with this idea. Billi accepts the fact that the family will never tell Nai Nai about her terminal cancer.
I don’t know if a title card that tells us the real Nai Nai was still alive and still didn’t know her diagnosis when this movie was produced is truly a part of the narrative, but it certainly made for quite a shock. The irony is Nai Nai did find out about her cancer after reading a review of The Farewell. This is such a fascinating and layered story, one that feeds into itself in such a way that is endearing. This isn’t Star Wars eating its own tail. This is a movie that told a story, and the story evolved because of the movie.
*Awkwafina has a faced a lot of criticism for her use of a blaccent. It’s not something I feel qualified to discuss, but it feels important to mention as it’s a legitimate discussion about appropriation.
MVP: Apparently, Lulu Wang was asked to whitewash this movie, and she fought hard to cast the people she wanted and keep the film culturally specific. Given, this film is based on a lot of experiences, I can hardly blame her, and I am a firm believer that what we have seen over the last three years with this, Parasite, and Crazy Rich Asians is a positive step for representation on-screen. Wang is an exciting storyteller, and I hope she is able to continue telling stories her way. There are so many tremendous details in this film, and it feels so much like Wang’s own experiences. And the big reveal at the end…perfect.
Best Performance: Awkwafina is really the only answer here. Shuzhen Zhao is perfectly charming as Nai Nai, but Awkwafina is in a position where she has to believe one thing and come to understand her family by the end in a way that doesn’t feel like a soap opera or melodramatic. Not only is she plausible, but I think she was undervalued during award season. I don’t know if the controversy surrounding her accent played a role or if it was just the fact that Parasite was the only Asian film voters could handle (The indictment is on them, not the filmmakers. These movies both should have been nominated for Best Picture). I walked away wanting to see Awkwafina in more movies and being excited to see future films involving her. That’s something I was not expecting.
Best Quote: “I walked the path of life and I have to say, you will face with difficulties. But you have to have an open mind. Don’t be like a bull hitting his horns all over the walls of the room. Life isn’t just about what you do, it’s more about how you do it.” – Nai Nai
Is there a sequel? No.