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The Farewell (Chinese with Subtitles)

The film begins with being “based on an actual lie”. The story is about a Chinese family whose matriarch (Nai Nai) is dying of lung cancer. The family decides to keep the truth from her and take on that responsibility themselves since the truth might kill her faster. Nai Nai’s children hasten the wedding of her grandson so as to bring the family together in China one last time. Although her parents told her she could not go, Billi (played excellently by Awkwafina), who has a special relationship with her grandmother, shows up anyway. I really love this film that feels very contemporary and whose family dynamics and relationships are very relatable. The family has mostly emigrated; one son and his wife live in America, the other in Japan, thus exposing tensions generated by cross-cultural (and cross-generational) families. The younger generations have moved increasingly distant from the traditional norms of their Chinese relatives and have varying degrees of acceptance of the decision to not tell their mother (grandmother) about the diagnosis. The story also is about not only this lie but the many (small) lies that serve as the foundation for familial relationships. Awkwafina is superb; her performance is heartfelt and spontaneous, and we feel her struggle with the norms she has grown up with in America and the lie that she is being forced to perpetuate. Big thumbs up for a film that is about the bonds that unite families and that addresses serious themes but whose screenplay delivers them in a frequently hilarious way. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. (2019; 4.0 stars)

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