I believe that the best comedic actors can easily become great dramatic actors. Awkwafina embodies this idea in The Farwell as Billi. She carries an eminence emotional burden in this movie as the outsider of the outsiders. This is a movie and performance that deserve Oscar consideration. In its opening weekend, it had a higher average revenue per screen than Avengers End Game!
The premise of the movie is that in China you don't inform your loved ones of a terminal diagnosis. A pretense of a wedding is contrived to bring the family together to say goodbye to Nai Nai, the matriarch, without actually saying goodbye. Billi, predominantly raised in New York City objects to this plan but must keep her objections hidden from the grandmother she loves so much.
My significant other's upbringing is similar to Billi's. I have visited all of her mother's side of her family around the world. Her maternal grandparents now live with her parents, so I see them every time we go to her parent's house. This movie didn't mean as much to me as it did my significant other, but I have felt like I was the camera in the movie many times. I have witnessed many of these scenes play out before me.
It would be fair to say I am a little biased to like this movie because of direct parallels that I can draw to Chinese families. Eating is a big part of Chinese culture when you don't see each other regularly. I have been at a dining room tables for hours staring at piles of food and not understanding ninety percent of the conversation, much like Billi. The food on the table in front of me and the food in front of Billi is a physical manifestation of the love that families share. Little is spoken about love, but it is demonstrated all around in this movie.
All of the above is not to say that this is a movie that only people with Chinese heritage will appreciate. The movie is very universal. The exterior shots throughout the movie are of an industrial, drab, and polluted modern China. All of the interior shots are bright, happy, and full of life. The universality of home and love is shown through this contrast. As long as the people you love are with you, every place is happy.
I saw this movie before lunch and it was torturous at times because of the amount of delicious on-screen food. The worst part was an extended three-camera conversation around a table with a slowly rotating lazy susan. Every dish looks delectable as it slowly rotates into then out of the frame while I sat there craving each one. This movie demonstrates that food is love better than any other in recent memory.
The movie does a great job of exploring all of the characters, not just Billi. While her dad is passed out from one too many 'gan bei', Billi's mom, Jian, reveals how she felt alienated as a daughter in law. It is a hurdle that any child-in-law feels at some point in time. Her father and uncle both left Nai Nai for other countries. They question if they were the good sons they always assumed themselves to be. Anyone who has left home can relate to this.
I got teary-eyed in one of the final scenes where Billi and her parents drive away while Nai Nai waves goodbye, blissfully unaware of her diagnosis. I can remember the exact spot that I gave my grandmother the last hug I ever would. It happened to be an extra hug because she came out to the parking lot of the Quality Inn. All of the building up of emotions of the movie hit me hard at that exact moment because I remember my grandmother waving in the rear-view mirror.
This is more proof that diverse casts and diverse stories can be supported in film. Writer and director Lulu Wang failed to get this movie made many times in both the US and China. Eventually, she was able to tell her story on the podcast This American Life. This brought new life into the effort and eventually this magnificent film was made. This is a universal story of a family that everyone can relate to. I am sure everyone will find a poignant scene in this film that will connect. Do yourself a favor and go see this film in theaters to support more films like this being produced.