Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 100%. It is one of the most beautiful and moving films of the year, and frankly, I think Rotten Tomatoes underrated it. I would have given it a rating of at least 150%…
The film is “The Farewell,” a Chinese film in which an entire family returns to say goodbye to the dying matriarch of the clan. “Matriarch,” as the dictionary defines it, is “a woman who dominates a group or an activity.” And Nai Nai, as she is called in Mandarin, certainly does that. But she also is an upbeat, supportive presence in all their lives. And, according to Chinese tradition, nobody is allowed to tell her she is dying. As one of her sons comments, “It is our responsibility to bear that burden for her.” And even her doctor refers to it as “a good lie.”
So the ostensible reason for the family get-together is for the wedding of a young cousin. At least that’s what the family members tell their mother as they gather from various parts of the world for their first visit “home” in 25 years.
Nai Nai has two sons. One has traveled from Japan and the other has come with his wife and daughter Billi from America. It is Billi who fights against the secret they are all keeping from her grandmother. She believes that Nai Nai should be told that she is dying because “she might want to say goodbye.”
This daughter is played by Awkwafina, who played the glamorous young bride-to-be in “Crazy Rich Asians.” In “The Farewell”, however, she stars as a sloppily dressed, disgruntled woman in her early 30s who remembers the loving relationship she enjoyed with her grandmother as a child in Changchun, before her parents inexplicably decided to emigrate to America.
Adjusting to the new environment was made even more difficult for her by the fact that her mother did not exhibit the warmth and playfulness she had experienced with Nai Nai. And so she and her grandmother share their lives by phone.
Despite the fact that this film us about the potential death from terminal lung cancer of a cherished matriarch, the film is identified as a “dramedy,” and indeed it is. There are a lot of funny moments between the members of this good-natured family, including the wedding banquet and the dancing that accompanies it, which are as raucous and hilarious and delightful as any happy ethnic celebration can be.
And that glimpse into Chinese culture is an additional bonus for the American viewer. Not only does the film provide a modicum of insight into the values and beliefs of this traditional family, but it also reminds you of the fact that many basic opinions and attitudes are similar to those held and recognized by many people in other parts of the world. In addition, the film provides spectacular glimpses of China and New York as the family moves briefly to Changchun for “the wedding.”
“The Farewell,” written and directed by Lulu Wang, is actually a true story about her own grandmother, and the film’s title onscreen identifies it as “a true lie.”
It opened in just a few theaters in mid-July, but you can rest assured that once the word is spread about what a lovely film it is, it will open in other theaters and, hopefully, will run for a very long time.