TL;DR – A truly emotional work of film that affected me in ways film rarely does.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Wow, just wow, I thought I had some handle on how this film was going to affect me when I walked in, but I had no idea. I didn’t know I would be tearing up in the first five minutes and that it would not stop until the credits rolled. It is a film like this that shows the power of the medium to tell stories that can affect us on our deepest human level.
So to set the scene, Billi (Awkwafina) is struggling to find her place in the world after failing to get the fellowship that she was after. While at her parents to use their washing machine she notices that her mother Jian (Diana Lin) and father Haiyan (Tzi Ma) are acting odd. Wounding the worse, Billi discovers that her beloved Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) has been diagnosed with late-stage cancer, but also that the family has decided not to tell her. Using a wedding as an excuse the whole family is going over to China in part to say goodbye without actually saying goodbye.
is honestly hard to put in words the effect this film had on me, it reached
into my heart found something that had been locked away for a very long time
and shone a light onto it. I have never had a film do that to me before and it
was completely overwhelming. Part of this was because I can deeply relate with
Billi, as to where she is in life. While that might have been the opening I
think it was the story and the commitment of the actors and the whole
production to bring it to life. All of this is wonderfully framed by Anna
Franquesa Solano and set to an angelic musical score that knows when to be up front
and when to let silence ring out.
While there is some very specific Chinese family dynamic at play in this film, its central premise is something that I think be understood by a much wider audience because it poses a very real question. If you had a terminal illness where there is nothing they could do, would you want to know? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that question and I think that would be the case for a lot of people as well. While on the surface there is apparently a united front from all the family, you can tell that each person is grappling with their own guilt, their own burden while desperately trying to make sure that Nai Nai does not find out. This creates so many different layers in the film and gives all the actors such range to emote through.
There are thus many different stories going on under the surface, which for a film would feel cluttered if not for its realness. While I am not from a Chinese background, I do come from a large extended Irish family and you could see those moments of tension, of over-politeness, little side comments that convey so much more meaning than just the words. The different ways people in the same extended family relate to each other. Though one thing I have never had to deal with is the use of language to have private conversations in public, which was fascinating to watch.
For me, one of the standouts was Jian who married into the family and has always had some issues being accepted. She carries such a burden from her life which has not been easy and she feels the need to always be the rock, the responsible one, so I think that small moment at the end cut deeper than almost anything else in the film. There are all of these moments throughout the film that takes you to a place of real emotion like Little Nai Nai (Lu Hong) reassuring people that she has a future planned, or Haibin (Yongbo Jiang) taking on the mantle of the older brother and being the strength for everyone and then being the first to falter under the pressure.
course at the core of the film is the relationship between Billi and Nai Nai,
and once again it felt real because it is complicated. They both love each
other and care deeply, but then there is also some pain. For Billi, some of the
only happy times of her childhood was staying with Nai Nai, but then they are
also the very symbol of everything that changed in her life and this trip is
bringing all of those emotions to the surface. For Nai Nai, she both loves
Billi’s independence but also wants to see her secure in her future. It is a
multi-faceted relationship and it feels real, and that is down to the exquisite
writing and acting, which I hope is recognised come awards time.
In the end, do we recommend The Farewell? Yes, absolutely. There is this common misconception that films need to be entertaining, they don’t, what they need to be is engaging. Well The Farewell is the most engaging film I have watched in a long time. It took me several goes at writing this review because I became a blubbering mess thinking back to the film. You don’t have that emotional connection without there being something real on screen. It is a work of art and one that will be with me for years to come.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow
Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV,
he’ll be talking about International Relations,
or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Farewell
Directed by – Lulu Wang
Written by – Lulu Wang
Music by – Alex Weston
Cinematography by – Anna Franquesa Solano
Edited by – Michael Taylor & Matthew Friedman
Production/Distribution Companies – Ray Productions, Big Beach, Depth of Field, Kindred Spirit, Village Roadshow & A24
Starring – Shuzhen Zhao, Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Hong Lu, Hong Lin, Yang Xuejian, Becca Khalil, Yongbo Jiang, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, X Mayo, Xiang Li, Hongli Liu, Shimin Zhang, Jing Zhang, Jinhang Liu & Xi Lin
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG