Rating: A really strong B+, low A-
Summary: Billi (Awkwafina) heads back to her native country to see her grandmother one last time.
The subject of Asian American identity in film has somewhat exploded over the past year or so, and while it’s bee great seeing things like Crazy Rich Asians and Mulan get greenlit or make a big splash in the news, The Farewell is actually the first one that made me reflect upon my upbringing in a mature manner.
I liked this movie. A lot. My one problem with it is that I could have used maybe 15 minutes or so with these characters because I absolutely loved how real everyone felt; but at the same time, it felt like the perfect amount of time to wrap it all up. Pacing is a tough thing to master- do you go with the self-indulgence or do you go with something plot-focused?
Then somewhere on my walk to the car, I realized that I was feeling exactly what director Lulu Wong wanted me to feel- longing for just one more minute of bonding time with family members. Wanting the moments to last and not wanting to say good-bye. This movie absolutely drips in emotions and ties its many cultural center to them in such a concise, careful manner. It’s really a lovely story that presents multiple sides of a debate, acknowledging that people are raised in different ways and no one is to blame for the generational and geographical gaps.
Throughout the whole movie, there’s a sense of obligation to the two worlds Billi belongs to and how she applies them to her family, who is refusing to tell her grandmother and family matriarch that she doesn’t have long to live. As most of her upbringing has been in America, Billi feels that her grandmother has the right to know what is going on. And through this American lens, through Billi arguing with her family, Wong is able to present Chinese tradition and all its quirks to people unfamiliar with its intricacies. It’s just a really smart way to explore a culture and evoke discussion about it.
I think even if you don’t identify with Asian culture or know little to nothing about what we do in a cemetery, that’s fine. The heart of the movie is the relationship with Billi and her Nai Nai, and the quiet moments they share. I don’t think you necessarily have to know a lot about someone’s past to feel intimately connected with them and The Farewell so perfectly captures two people who want to spend as much time together as possible. And you, the audience, wants to spend more time with them. I wanted to give them all the time in the world. I haven’t emotionally connected with a movie like this all year. This might crack my top five of 2019.