The Farewell review
It's an old saying, but it's true when people tell you that we don't really know what we had until we lost it. This is usually the case from people that have lost a relative. A grandparent, cousins we rarely talk to or even a parent we're estranged from. Perhaps we would tell ourselves "we'll do more things next year" or "their not going anywhere soon", only to get the news that they were hit by a bus or succumbed to an illness they never disclosed. The people that experience this feeling of being too late will often feel guiltier and thus grieve a lot longer.
Because I'm close with my family, I'm usually ready when one is about to leave life. But I've had friends that have felt like they could have done more. Their not bad people and haven't done anything wrong, but it does remind us that there's a lot of value in something we can see anytime. So when we get the world that one of them is dying, do we spend time trying to keep them alive or do we carry on like everything is normal. Chinese tradition within death is explored within the new comedy/drama, The Farewell.
An aspiring Chinese American writer Billi (played by Awkwafina) is struggling to get her work made as she's rejected from a Guggenheim Fellowship, but tries to keep her life going. She has a lot of support from her grandmother Nai Nai who she talks to consistently. While visiting her parents, her father gets the word that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has been given a few months to live. It's also revealed that the extended family won't tell Nai Nai about her own illness and are even planning a quick wedding in Changchun, China as an excuse for everyone to see her one last time.
Billi is encouraged to stay home as her parents feel she's too emotional to keep the secret, but ends up flying out there on her own. Though she's clearly wants to tell, the rest of the family puts up a happy wedding act. When she asks why, her father, mother, and extended family admit it's because of Chinese tradition and that most families will do it to enjoy the time left. This puts Billi in a position that not only questions her own peoples traditions, but figuring out just what just who she is now that she's back in China for the first time in years.
The Farewell may seem like a depressing subject matter…and it can be. But at it's core, it’s a character piece and a really good one to boast. I had no idea that this was an actual Chinese tradition, but it makes for an interesting one to discuss; this idea of whether people should know when their going to die. I myself would be at a crossroads. I guess it would depend on the person, but for Awkwafina's case, I can understand her struggle. The movie makes it clear that her grandmother was one of her last ties to her original country and how much she meant to her.
Speaking of which, Awkwafina turns in a surprisingly great performance, considering she's known for comedy. Though she's written as a bit of a stand in character, especially for a western audience, she's still a fleshed out human as someone whose also going through depression. With the death of her closet family member close, this can't be good for her. The Farewell does well to explore all these territories while trying to fill in on the rest of the family.
In a story like The Farewell, with a large cast, it's likely that some people are going to get lost in the shuffle. Though the wedding does go through, I did realize that I didn't care for these characters because I barley knew them. It would have been nice if the movie had gone further into some of the other family members besides Billi and her parents. You'd think this would put some of the other, younger family members on the spot. I respect the script for trying to keep the dilemma focused on one person, it's usually the rest the family that’s going to add a lot.
I'll give this four Chinese wedding invitations out of five.The Farewell is a really good character piece, but I still think other avenue could have made it even better. Though there's a hacking plot, my favorite example of this kind of story is the anime, Summer Wars, which has similar subject matters. Nevertheless, I still recommend it as it kept my interest throughout a story that normally would have boarded me.