Film begins with my favourite line in a long while. In black and white across the screen before it begins is the simple sentence “Based on an actual lie.” Brilliant!
Some might dismiss Lulu Wang’s (Posthumous) film as an attempt to cash in on the monster success of Crazy Rich Asians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it does have Awkwafina in common, but that is where the similarities end. This is a much smaller film, not a romantic comedy and almost completely in Chinese. There are laughs to be had though they are mostly of the “oh, I have been there” variety rather than due to witty dialogue or pratfalls. It is actually a mixture of laughs and poignant moments.
Having just received a letter informing her that she is not to receive the fellowship she applied for, budding artist Billi (Awkwafina – Ocean’s Eight, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) is feeling rather lost. Her mood does not improve when her parents tell her that her grandmother is dying and they will be traveling to China to say their goodbyes under the guise of Hao Hao’s (Han Chen – From Where We’ve Fallen) wedding. Goodbyes without telling Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao – first film) that she is dying. Plus they don’t want Billi coming with them as she won’t be able to keep the secret.
Billi is crushed as she is really close to her grandmother. Even though she has not seen her in a long time they still talk on the phone all the time. Billi also doesn’t agree with the family decision and Chinese tradition of not telling a family member that they are dying. But she won’t be left out, so gets on a plane without telling anyone.
The ability to be emotional in film without it becoming overly sentimental is a special skill. Lulu Wang, who is also the screenwriter, accomplishes this. She tugs at your heartstrings without it seeming like a complete set up or unrealistic. Probably because it hits close to home as she lost her own grandmother in a similar way.
Family dynamics is held under the microscope and you don’t have to be Chinese to be able to relate. Even if hiding the fact that someone only has months to live is not part of your culture the way this family interacts with one another will be familiar to most. Guilt, distance between members, sharing meals together, and attending events.
Awkwafina is a talented woman. She does stand-up, raps, has written a travel book on NYC, and acts. Here she proves that she won’t have an acting career based solely upon being the zany sidekick or supporting actress. In The Farewell, Awkwafina carries the film. Like a pro. Walks the acting tightrope of laughs and tears with skill.
Yes, this is another film with an all-Asian cast, but the indie film is bound to forge a path and audience of its own. A human story all ages and cultures can relate to.