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The Farewell

Billi is a young New Yorker who loves her grandmother in China very much. When Nai Nai gets cancer, the family doesn‘t want to tell her anything and hastily organize a wedding instead so that everyone can see Nai Nai again.


Already an early contender for Best Picture at next year’s Oscars, Lulu Wang’s autobiographical tragicomedy The Farewell offers one of the most emotionally rewarding experiences to be found during the crowded awards season.

In her first starring role, rapper/actress Awkwafina plays Billi, a struggling writer in New York who still keeps in close contact with Nai Nai (Shuzehen Zhou), her grandmother in China. We meet the two chit-chatting on the phone, but both women are holding something back - Nai Nai is in the hospital getting a CT scan, and Billie recently received some painful news about a Guggenheim fellowship. We soon learn Nai Nai only has a short time to live, and the family plans to keep her in the dark about the diagnosis. The ensuing events revolve around Billi’s struggle to comprehend how the family could tell such a massive lie to someone they love so much.

Considering this is only Wang’s second feature, it’s worth noting that the filmmaking is remarkably seamless - it’s so strong, it almost feels invisible. Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano shoots with a lot of natural light, giving a familiar and homey vibe. Images of Chinese interiors are beautifully composed, and there’s not a lot of closeups - Wang and Solano favor medium and long shots, giving the characters ample room to breathe and come to life.

Awkwafina, hot off her hilarious supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS, proves herself fully capable of carrying a film on her own. Although Billi’s grief and confusion is the main focus, the story allows the fabulous supporting cast to shine, and many characters have their own little arcs. Shuzehen Zhou’s touching and naturalistic performance as Nai Nai radiates that grandmotherly mix of warmth and wisdom, peppered with a touch of defiance.

THE FAREWELL tugs at the heartstrings multiple times, but does so without a lot of manipulation; Wang respects the audience’s emotional intelligence, and allows us to ponder some big issues on our own. The themes presented here - cultural identity, mortality, familial obligation, the virtues of selflessness - are carefully explored and all come together in perfect harmony. Wang, who also penned the screenplay, has a a knack for realistic dialogue, and it’s the glue that holds the whole thing together.

Aside from the brief running time, there’s really nothing to complain about here. The whole package is so cozy and charming, one could easily spend another hour with with these characters. Ultimately, THE FAREWELL doesn’t have answers for all of the existential question it poses, but you’ll leave the theater with a fresh outlook on life, death, and everything in-between.

Jared Abbott


USA 2019, 98 min
Genre: Familiy History, Drama, Tragicomedy
Director: Lulu Wang
Author: Lulu Wang
DOP: Anna Franquesa Solano
Montage: Matt Friedman, Michael Taylor
Music: Alex Weston
Distributor: DCM Film
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Jim Liu, Gil Perez-Abraham, Ines Laimins
Release: 19.12.2019




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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