There are a couple of key battles going on in Hollywood right now. For one, there is the ongoing struggle for movies to be more inclusive, diverse and representative. All the while, movies that don't have superheroes or big explosions in them are fighting for their place at the box office. The Farewell serves as a shining example of why we need more of the former and a movie that absolutely deserves to beat the odds and earn the attention of moviegoers, as writer/director Lulu Wang has crafted what should go down as one of the best movies of the year, including a standout performance from Awkwafina.
The Farwell centers on Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) who reluctantly returns to her family's home city in China to visit her beloved grandmother and family patriarch, Nai-Nai. The entire family knows that she has been diagnosed with cancer and has been given just weeks to live. However, they've decided not to tell her in order to ensure her happiness. So, they all get together, using an unexpected wedding as an excuse, uniting family members that haven't been together in years. As Billi navigates the minefield that is her family, in addition to cultural proprieties, she wrestles with whether or not they're all doing the right thing.
As purely dramatic as that all might sound, Lulu Wang has managed to craft a perfectly balanced dramedy. In as much as there are plenty of moments of deep, hardcore, rawly human emotion, there are also just as many equally human moments of pure elation and delight. It's also wholly unique to someone, such as myself who, sad to say, isn't as well-versed in other cultures as perhaps I should be. This as an absolutely outstanding look at life and death through the eyes of a culture relatively few of us in America are deeply familiar with. That alone makes it compelling on several levels. Just as much as this is a movie about family, it's very much an intimate look at Chinese culture and it's tremendously effective on both counts.
Culturally different as it may be for mainstream American audiences, the emotion at its core is universal. This is a poignant, stunningly beautiful, deeply enriching and fascinating look at something virtually everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives. Awkwafina serves as our vehicle between both cultures and plays the part perfectly. She's been on the rise over the last couple of years but this serves as a monumental, breakthrough performance for her. I would not be the least bit surprised to see her name on the Best Actress shortlist when this year's Oscar nominations are released. For that matter, Shuzhen Zhao, who portrays Nai-Nai, is equally deserving of recognition. And if the Academy handed out awards for an ensemble performance, this would be a contender, no doubt.
I'm very aware that a movie with Chinese subtitles throughout roughly 75 percent of its runtime isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea. Quite honestly, it's not usually mine. That said, this is well worth getting out of one's comfort zone for. This is a movie that deserves attention and box office dollars. Not because I'm arguing in favor of some crusade about not letting art die, but because this is an experience that will entertain and enrich the lives of moviegoers, while also showing Hollywood that diverse filmmakers should be given a larger voice in this medium far more often. The Farewell arrives in theaters on July 19 from A24.