A24 triumphs once again when it comes down to releasing comedies that target sensitive subjects while paying careful attention to capture the heart along the way.
Writer and director Lulu Wang steps into the spotlight with her debut film, The Farewell, which retells the true events of Wang’s family discovering their grandmother’s terminal cancer diagnosis- and more importantly, how they plan to hide it from her. The story was first broadcasted on This American Life, and from the radio and podcast, was adapted for screenplay.
Wang brings an accurate and tasteful representation of Chinese culture to the big screen. Her direction offers insight into traditional behaviors and family customs. Her life experiences administer a refreshing and honest look to prenotions or ideas misconstrued by media.
The Farewell, mostly taking place in China, heavily incorporates spoken Mandarin into the script. It’s unique and individual to the film, adding to the authenticity and charm, and seals the authenticity that the film angles to spearhead.
Awkwafina is powerful, delivering her best performance to date as Billi, mastering a range of emotions and illustrating the very real and very human feelings of fear, guilt, and grief. From dry quips to full-blown emotional breakdowns, she successfully draws attention to how capable she is in the right role, and in this case, Billi is an excellent choice for the actress to personify.
Alongside Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, depicting the ailing grandmother Nai Nai, is amusing, naive and lovable. Her carefree nature and untroubled personality are hard not to adore. The relationship between Billi and Nai Nai is wholesome, genuine and endearing. Together, they brighten the film’s grim subject and their bond is heartfelt, awash with sincerity. Their interactions are memorable and provide resonation.
The humor is sharp and saturated with wittiness. Wry and laconic comedy is interwoven into the dialogue. Comedic jabs can be subtle at times and stand back while allowing dramatic influence to take charge. Outbursts of anguish and frustration are met, but not diffused or overlapped by, a punchline. The Farewell is certainly smart about evening out the seriousness of the story and leveling it with badinage.
Emotion, more than anything, is embraced and accentuated. The film allows itself to ache and to enjoy itself. Humanity is advocated for, and vulnerability is encouraged. The Farewell is built on heart and healing.
Verdict: 9/10. The Farewell is a richly-devised dramatic comedy that takes the chances that everyday life gambles on and creates an enamoring, relatable cinematic success. Wang is a visionary on the rise.