Rating (3.5 out of 5)
Summary: A well-done drama exploring family and illness of elderly family members. The movie balances the humor of families relating to one another, with the sadness of the grandma dying. The poignant moments are surprisingly from the main characters mother, Jian (Diana Lin) discussing with her daughter Billi (Awkwafina) about America, China, and family.
While I disagree with Scott on why there is no doubt that the main character is the weak link in the movie, however, there is so much happening around her only the positives shine through. Overall, “The Farewell” is a pleasant surprise. Refreshing to watch a film about people and family, that didn’t involve guns, car chases or superheroes. I wish there were more of these.
Plot: Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), Billi’s grandmother in China is seriously ill. The family goes to China to see her under the pretense of her cousin’s wedding. The catch is they all must conceal from Nai Nai she is sick.
Detail: Nai Nai is the highlight of the film. How she interacts with the family is delightful, and she lights up the screen. You can’t help but smile when her character appears. Nai Nai is endearing, and you want her to live.
The best discussions happen between Billi and her mother as they explore subtlety the challenges of immigrating to America and handling emotions between the cultures. Additionally, there were wonderful little scenes throughout the film. When Billi is walking with her Uncle to the hotel; Grandma teaching Billi her morning ritual; the wedding.
While there were numerous memorable scenes, “The Farewell” has a few elements I didn’t enjoy. Counter to Scott’s incorrect opinion, I didn’t enjoy the sad music spread throughout the film. However, the largest distractor was the main character, Billi. I am not sure if it is Billi’s character or the actress. Either way, she was loud and obnoxious compared to other characters, and only mildly likable. I assume that this characterization is to contrast the American culture versus the Chinese culture. The contrast was a bit stark compared to the ease of the rest of the film.
Even Billi’s resolution towards the end when she supports the family’s approach was half-hearted and a missed opportunity. As I write this last sentence, it has dawned on me, that the problems with Billi’s character are attributable to the director rather than the actress. Scott and I again disagree.