Updated: Mar 6, 2020
Bucking current movie trends, "The Farewell" opens with words that read "based on an actual lie." It won me over right then because so-called factual movies always alter details and involve untruths. But most ironically, a well-crafted, heartfelt story like The Farewell ultimately carries more truth than so many of those projects saddled by dates and specifics. Though "The Farewell" springs from the director's personal experiences, she easily shifts whatever she needs to keep the story flowing.
The movie's emotional truthfulness blends with another irony because it portrays detailed specifics of a place and culture, yet ultimately feels entirely universal in its understanding of people in general. Directed by Lulu Wang, "The Farewell" covers a reunion in China as family members return to visit their family matriarch.
Following custom, no one admits the real reason — her cancer diagnosis with a short-term prognosis. Everyone pretends or lies about their actions, but their motivations come from love. This helps make "The Farewell" a feel-good movie despite an underlying wistfulness and sadness.
This sense comes strongly in a lead performance by Awkwafina, best known for her fun comic relief in the movie Crazy Rich Asians. "The Farewell" lets her humor show through, while demonstrating dramatic range as well. She proves herself as a screen natural, with an engaging laugh and likable manner.
In her U.S. movie debut, seventy-five-year-old Zhao Shuzen (jow shoe shawn) from China dominates as a grandma many recognize, full of love for her family but perfectly willing to dish out unsolicited advice and tactless observations. She exudes an overall warmth and rapport with her co-lead that transcends any language barriers since cast members speak mostly in Mandarin.
Other performers meld with the lead characters as they express a different take on the conflicting emotions they feel. Though people take center stage, director Wang makes her Beijing and Manhattan settings add to the story's tone. Shot in a manner to catch how environment and people influence each other, "The Farewell" stands out as a slice of life movie that feels completely real.
This review was originally aired on 8/9/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/farewell#stream/0