The Farewell (2019)

Turns out award shows can have a positive result on my movie watching. I wouldn’t have known anything about this film if Awkwafina hadn’t won the Best Actress – Musical or Comedy Golden Globe for her work here.

Luckily, the movie lived up to my expectations and then some.

Based on director Lulu Wang’s real life —  which she first publicly discussed on an episode of This American Life — The Farewell proves that the foreign may not be so foreign. Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her grandmother Nai Nai (played by Chinese theatrical actress Shuzhen Zhao) is dying from cancer, yet her family refuses to tell their matriarch. Instead, an elaborate wedding ruse is invented so that they may all see her one more time.

The truth is, six years after the real life diagnosis, Wang’s grandmother remains alive. She still didn’t know that she even had the disease until this movie. Incredibly, Wang kept the secret from her during and after the making of this movie. She would only discover the true story when she discussed the movie with her sister Lu Hong, who plays herself in the movie. The fact that the movie was released in China as Don’t Tell Her was not lost on the real life Nai Nai, who remarked, “…that’s why you didn’t tell me, because I am the “her” of the Don’t Tell Her.”

The way that families deal with aging is strange. My father had a stroke last year and often worries so much about the shaking in his hands — which he can’t understand and needs an explanation daily — that the rest of my family told him that it was all because one of the knives he uses isn’t balanced properly and that the shaking isn’t really his fault. Much like the lies in this movie, that simple explanation makes things easier for him. Is it right? I’m not entirely sure.

The lesson here comes from Nai Nai’s farewell. She warns Billi of being “the bull endlessly ramming its horns into the corner of the room” and tells her that “life isn’t just about what you do, it’s more about how you do it.” Certainly this seems like no great revelation, but this movie is all about the way the story and the advice and the emotion are told.

I enjoyed it. Perhaps you will. You can watch The Farewell on Amazon Prime.

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