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The Farewell Movie Review

The Farewell (2019) movie poster The Farewell

Theatrical Release: July 12, 2019 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Lulu Wang

Cast: Awkwafina (Billi), Tzi Ma (Haiyan), Diana Lin (Lu Jian), Zhao Shuzhen (Nai Nai), Lu Hong (Little Nai Nai), Yongbo Jiang (Haibin), X Mayo (Suze), Lin Hong (Doctor Wu), Yang Xuejian (Mr. Li), Becca Khahil (Shirley), Chen Han (Haohao)


One summer after stealing scenes in Ocean's Eight and, to a larger degree, Crazy Rich Asians, comic actor Awkwafina gets her chance at leading lady status. Surprisingly, it comes not in a mainstream studio comedy
like the aforementioned but The Farewell a critic-friendly dramedy from A24, the hippest young prestige studio around.

Awkafina plays Billi, a broke New Yorker who is stunned and heartbroken to learn that her beloved grandmother is dying of lung cancer in China. What's as shocking to Billi is that Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) doesn't know she's dying. Her family has kept her diagnosis secret from her, believing that fear would do more harm than the apparently untreatable cancer. Billi insists she tags along on the spontaneous trip to Changchun, China, where her one and only first cousin (Chen Han) is hastily marrying his girlfriend of a few months. The ceremony is really just an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye to Nai Nai, but without tipping her off that her terminal condition is why they're there.

In A24's "The Farewell", Billi (Awkwafina) and her family travel to China for a family wedding but really just to see the dying Nai Nai one last time.

An opening title card declares this is "based on a true lie" and even without it, you'd gather that much because Lulu Wang clearly is drawing from personal experiences in this, her second feature as writer-director. The autobiographical nature imbues this film with much value. There is an honesty and originality to the storytelling that can't be faked. And there is an authentic depiction of a culture historically underrepresented
by Hollywood that comes from having a Chinese-born American filmmaker's voice be heard. All this renders the film incredibly endearing without it being hilarious or complex.

Much of The Farewell plays out in Mandarin with English subtitles. The cast, even Awkwafina, the daughter of a Chinese-American father and South Korean immigrant mother, is surprisingly comfortable in a foreign tongue. The film was shot in Changchun and doesn't appear to pull any punches, valuing authenticity over accessibility. That ensures it won't be the mainstream attraction that Crazy Rich Asians was last year, but it takes the same all-Asian cast approach and yields something more poignant and universally rewarding without the artifice of a big wide studio romantic comedy.

After toppling Avengers: Endgame's per-theater opening with a formidable 19th place debut from just four theaters last weekend, The Farewell expands tonight, its critical approval rating remaining perfect on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Reviewed July 18, 2019.

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