“Based on an actual lie” are the first words to appear on screen.
The text represents the entire film extremely well, setting up the entire synopsis, the story’s origins, and it’s themes. It also offers some humour in the irony that it will almost definitely be more truthful than any Hollywood film that opens with “inspired by a true story.”
The movie opens with Chinese-American Billi (Awkwafina) as she strolls down the street on the phone to her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), effortlessly switching between Chinese to her grandmother and English to passers-by. “Yes, I’m wearing a hat, Billi reassures Nai Nai (she isn’t).
By smoothly introducing the audience to this notion of Billi’s background in both China and America, as well as the ease with which she lies to Nai Nai, Lulu Wang very quickly sets up both the film’s themes and characters.
Once Billi arrives home, she is met with the devastating news that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with cancer. Billi’s family have decided to keep the news from Nai Nai. Chinese tradition states that you let your loved ones die peacefully, without worry. Of course, Billi is a lot less willing to lie to her grandmother once she hears this. Very quickly, a faux wedding is planned and the whole family is in China to see Nai Nai one last time.
Tethered relationships, long lost family and a fake marriage all come together for a week of planning and reunion in their home country of China.
Over the next hour and thirty minutes incredible talent is exhibited from all, from Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen’s brilliant performances to Lulu Wang’s unbelievable writing and directing. With beautiful cinematography, wonderful performances, brilliant writing, it’s safe to say The Farewell is art at its finest.
The Farewell provides a complete culture shock between the East and the West, while also posing morally complex questions. The viewing experience poses as an insight in to the answers of those questions, as well as how differently filmmakers approach them. Wang manages all of this, and more, proving herself as one of the best filmmakers in the world today.