THE FAREWELL is a Poignant and Personal Tale [Blu Review]

Awkwafina impresses in Lulu Wang’s deftly wrought tale


After learning that her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi returns to Changchun to find that her family has decided to keep the news from Nai Nai. While the family gathers under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, Billi rediscovers the country she left as a child, and is forever changed by her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, in this richly moving story of how family can unite and strengthen us — often in spite of ourselves.

The Farewell showcases delightfully deft storytelling from writer and director Lulu Wang. An autobiographical effort, her surrogate in the tale is Billi (Akwafina), a 30-something Chinese-American writer brought to the States by her parents as a young child. The bond she has with her family back home is shaken with the news that the matriarch of the family, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), has been diagnosed with cancer; and to spare her the torment of knowing she is dying, they have chosen to keep the prognosis from her. The nuptials of her cousin give further reason (and cover for) a family reunion. While many strive to celebrate, with Nai Nai at the forefront of festivities, Billi struggles to embrace complicity in the deception underway.

At its core there is this culture-clash, contrasting the different approaches to emotional problems between these two peoples — the American way of confronting, sharing, discussing, and the Chinese way of bottling things up, not causing a fuss, respecting a hierarchy and tradition. Billi, a child of China and adult of the USA, straddles the two, perfectly summated in a phone call conversation that opens the film, wandering the streets of New York while talking to Nai Nai in China, flipping between loving and dutiful granddaughter and street savvy young American. Billi and her parents’ return opens up conversations within the family as they reflect on their past, their relationships, and the differences between Chinese and American values. It also gives insight into the dynamics of this group, the clashes between them, and the bonds that ultimately tie them together.

While the whole ensemble delivers so much genuine charm, Awkwafina carries the weight of being the fulcrum to the story with aplomb. A standout in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, here she showcases incredibly nuanced work, taking Billi on a cathartic journey as event open up understanding for her family and culture, as well as her buried emotions about being transplanted from China to the US at a young age. The film never gets too heavy or morbid, flitting from sadly contemplative to joyous with an underlying sentimental charm throughout and punctuation of humor. Much of the carefully layered comedy stems from the backdrop of this family wedding, which also provides more insights into Chinese culture. Wang delicately treads deep and meaningful path, crafting a story that exudes an admirable level of warmth and authenticity.

The Package

The Farewell is nicely represented here. Good detail, natural color representation, contrast and levels of saturation. Some of the scenes do seem a little muted, but likely due to the setting rather than the transfer. Extra features are:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Lulu Wang and Cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano: The tale is a personal one, which makes this commentary rather intimate, insightful as well as entertaining.
  • Nothing but the Truth — Confessions of a Writer-Director Featurette: Just over 15 minutes in length, the filmmaker Wang talks about the personal origins of the story as well as how she related to and conveyed aspects of Chinese culture in the tale.
  • Going Home: A Conversation with Awkwafina Featurette: A nice addition where the actor reflects on her own cultural identity and the journey of discovery the film took her on.
  • Deleted Scenes: Just a few minutes, no commentary/reason for excision accompanies the footage.
  • Digital download code

The Bottom Line

The Farewell is a bittersweet delight. Sad news and a family reunion are used to explore clashes of culture and personality and the enduring bonds of family. Lulu Wang has crafted a film brimming with humor, authenticity, and pathos that serves as a revealing platform for the deep talents of Awkwafina.

The Farewell is available on Blu-ray from November 12th, 2019.

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