The APAHM Project Day 3: The Farewell
Updated: May 11, 2020
Film: The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang
Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video
Why it made the list:
One of my favorite films of 2019, Wang’s “The Farewell” premiered at 2019’s Sundance festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes 2020. Awkwafina took home the Golden Globe for Best Actress - Musical or Comedy, being the first Asian woman to do so. “The Farewell“ went on to win Best Feature at the Indie Spirit Awards. And let’s not forget to mention that during its limited release (4 theaters) it grossed an average of $87K per theater, which surpassed the average per theater of the number one movie of all time, Marvel‘s “Avengers: Endgame.”
I love this movie, let’s just get that established on the front end. I dragged my parents to see it during its limited release in Memphis and by the end of the film, I was in tears. Not the holding it back, watery eyes kind of tears, but the big crocodile tears that roll down your face kind of tears.
The premise is straightforward enough: Billi‘s (Awkwafina) grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed with terminal cancer and her family decides to keep this from her. Instead, they hold a rushed wedding in China for Billi’s cousin as an excuse to all say good-bye to Nai Nai.
This story is based off director Wang’s own experience with her grandmother, who actually never knew about her cancer until the film’s release. Other parts of Wang‘s personal life are infused in the story: Billi being a writer and pianist and her own great aunt playing Nai Nai’s sister for example.
There are so many things to love about this film: the screenplay, the cinematography, the color, the solemn music, the acting, the humor, the Chinese traditions. But the heart is what makes me think about this movie long after watching it.
When I was 12, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and my family, like Billi’s, decided not to tell him. We waited a few weeks and once we did tell him, his health definitely declined. He was once so sharp and lively, he seemed more like a 50 year old than a 71 year old man. But as his illness worsened, he looked his age and his mind had withered away. It sadly wasn’t long before my grandfather passed away. Maybe that is why this film resonates with me so well. However, during the scene in which I bawled my eyes out, I was not thinking of my grandfather, but my grandmother.
It is at the end of the movie, after we have clearly seen how close Billi is with Nai Nai, we see Billi saying goodbye to her grandmother for what is seemingly the last time. The two embrace and Billi climbs into the cab. She turns around to watch her grandmother shrink into the distance when the grandmother begins waving goodbye and covering her mouth from crying.
My grandmother became a widow 13 years ago. She lives on her own, only my mother, father, and I coming to visit about once a week. She cooks a meal for us, we fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we climb in the car as we say goodbye. And I watch her, waving at us from her garage door, as we pull away. It pains me to think of my grandmother being lonely and missing her children and her grandchildren when they go. And when I saw Nai Nai crying and waving goodbye, I knew she felt the same.
Let’s quickly talk about Awkwafina. This role proved that she’s more than a comedy act, although her humor still shines during this dramedy. Rightfully so, Awkwafina was nominated for several awards, minus the Oscar (in fact the entire film was ignored by the Oscars, but it’s not like I’m mad about it...yes, this is sarcasm). The film is seen mostly from Billi’s perspective and how Nai Nai’s illness directly effects her. Before her cousin’s wedding, she tells her mother she wishes to stay in China and be with Nai Nai. She said she was happy with her family in China before they moved away to America. This separation from family is often a sacrifice that immigrant families must choose in order to have a better life in America. Billi‘s life in New York does not seem to make her happy, but her Nai Nai does, even when Nai Nai calls Billi from overseas, this is when we see Billi at her happiest in New York. Awkwafina‘s ability to make us feel a motherly attachment to Nai Nai helps us to emotionally connect with the film, making it all the more enjoyable and painful to watch.
Lastly, we need to talk about my current hero, writer and director Lulu Wang. Not only does she have great quarantine Instagram stories with her partner, filmmaker Barry Jenkins (seriously, check them out), but she is a great filmmaker (also check out her video interviews) as seen in her storytelling in “The Farewell” as she gradually makes you attached to Nai Nai, savoring every moment as if it’s the last, all just to stab you in the heart at the end. This entire screenplay is just one big piece of dramatic irony, because when Nai Nai speaks, she doesn’t realize that her words carry so much weight to her family members who know of her illness. Wang’s first industry job was as a cast assistant on “Rush Hour 3” back in 2007. 12 years later, with short films, web series, and her first feature “Posthumous” under her belt, along with several awards, she rose to success and became one of the most talked about filmmakers in 2019 standing along Greta Gerwig, Martin Scorsese, and Noah Baumbach on magazine covers and round table interviews. I can’t help but be inspired by someone who started as an assistant, where I am today, and has a similar cultural background to myself. Wang definitely pushes me to be more motivated to get my work out into the world.
Does it deserve to stay on this list:
Even if beautiful, heart-warming, and heart-wrenching movies with a sprinkle of humor is not your cup of tea, I still think it would be hard to not like this movie. It’s refreshing and original, deserving all the accolades and praises it received. I think anyone who has ever had a family member who was ill or even a family member that they simply miss can relate to this film. Everyone should watch this film at least once in their lives. I hope to watch Wang’s “Posthumous” sometime soon and am looking forward to her future films as well.