In the widest stretches, the conflict in the center of Farewell is known: If you could save any significant pain at the expense of hiding the truth, you would still tell them or would you want to shoulder The emotional burden self?
What is remarkable about Lulu Wang's semi-biographical film is how much she has managed to build that issue. Farewell is dense and manages the central league in connection with first generation immigrant experience (which can easily be named but not so easily defined), but it never feels heavy despite how much it takes on. Wang gives it the question and the effects of China's growth, the eternal pressure and the pull between East and West, and how difficult it can sometimes be to express love with equal importance, weaving a foliage that addresses problems that are usually left unspoken. It is an astonishing achievement, and undoubtedly cement The Farewell as one of the best films of the year, a drama as fun as it touches and a great deal of work by both Wang and leading lady Awkwafina. [1
Initially, Billi is not invited, because the family fears that she will be too emotional and makes it clear that Nai Nai is something, not to mention the fact that she does not understand how anyone can agree to be complicated in such a big lie. But Billi still buys a plane ticket – and once in China one finds the question whether they are doing the right thing that is much harder to see in such black and white terms.
Billi's embezzlement at the decision stems from the years she has spent in America, where such a lie is unthinkable. In China, it is common to keep such news a secret, not as an act of evil, but as part of the concept of branch piety (a respect and responsibility for their elders) and the less Western idea of their life is part of a whole rather than belonging to himself alone. The way the family sees it, they harbor Nai Nai's burden on her.
Wang tackles cultural contexts without presenting one or the other as inherent errors or intrinsically correct or otherwise exotic. Partly it is how it should always be (that something is foreign should not mean that it is feed to be fun), and partly because they are not mutually exclusive units. Billi is the living proof – she is forever stuck between two worlds, not American enough for one and not Chinese enough for the other.
Lying aside, much of what is happening in Farewell is likely to feel painfully known to all first-generation members of the audience. Billi frustration with his mother Jians (Diana Lin) stoicism, her parents' countless difficulties emigrating from China to America, her father Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and her uncle Haibin's (Jiang Yongbo) debt to live abroad, except her mother. They are experiences that feel both universal and intensely specific (both terms that are often thrown around too often in discussions of stories that are not, let's face it, if white people as a way of saying "there's something for you here, too! ").
They are universal in that they are the kinds of things that first generation immigrants (or their children) will talk about other first genders in implicit terms or in vanishing jokes, recognized as shared experiences but never really expressed clearly for the same reason as the family decides to hide Nai Nai's diagnosis. They are specific in that, because of the exact rules (and for the unnecessary fear that such non-Western stories would be inaccessible to other audience groups), they are never really conversations put on the screen and they feel alarmingly new
Farewell feels even more like a gift to hold firmly in reality rather than throwing in any melodrama or twists that could make the movie more "Hollywood". There is no huge third- (19459003) Crazy Rich Asians which stops feeling a little more outsized as a result) and no definite conclusion – less because they are not wanted, but because they are not necessary. Such a love is built up for years, over a lifetime's values of moments, not a single great gesture.
The cast of which is significant of the legacy of the characters they depict, as opposed to the usual casting of island as a monolith, and includes the wonderful Hong Lu, the Little Nai Nai itself, as itself) is uniform extraordinary, like Widescreen cinematography (by Anna Franquesa Solano) and Alex Weston's whimsical points. Wang's stable hand leads everything, captures the little moments – Little Nai Nai sits alone, who obviously bears the burden of effectively making the decision for the family as the only one present at the time of diagnosis, or Billi gamely follows along with Nai Nai's tai chi – which is not absolutely necessary for history, adds to its wealth.
The conversations that Billi has with his mother about which first generation children often take for granted but parents have struggled with conversations that I have had with my own mother. The idea of what is owed to the people around you against what you owe to yourself is one that is constant, if I deliberately think about it or not, in my daily life. None of them are things I have talked to other people – once again, less for fear of being misunderstood but because they have always liked me, like private business.
I do not know – and the point Farewell is not – it is necessarily false, now but it feels important to have these ideas explored so well and in such a future way. I have never spoken to anyone exactly why, when my family would visit and then depart from our relatives in South Korea, I would look back out of the car's window to see my grandmother waving goodbye until I could no longer see her or that I developed the habit at all. Every time I knew it would be at least a year until I would see her again, a year where we both would get a little older. It always felt like I would take the last look, just to have a little more time with her, or at least have a last picture of her in my mind, if that time were the last. And so it was one day.
Few scenes have hit me as hard as Billi does, turning in an outgoing car to see Nai Nai waving until she's no longer in sight. It is a hyperspecific moment and memory, but representative, to me, of how special The Farewell is. It is the type of film that, with modest decor, feels like there will be a great milestone in cinema in the coming years.
Farewell is now in limited edition.