The Farewell takes its audience across the sea to a fundamentally different cultural world, exploring the morally conflicting dilemmas involved with saying goodbye to a beloved family member. In this story of cultural conflict we follow the journey of Billi (Awkwafina), a young Chinese American-raised girl who is facing the difficult choice of saying goodbye to her sick grandmother. The Farewell is an emotional ride that is long and painful, taking one through the various stages of grief and conflict associated with the passing of someone dear — through that we see Billi endure these pains in all their many forms. From her shock and anger to her bargaining and depression. The Farewell is as much of an experience seeing Billi go through these changes as it about experiencing a story that shows the moral differences between Eastern and Western values surrounding the death of those close.
All of this is of course bolstered by a touching and deeply personal performance from Awkwafina. This felt like a story that hit close to home for her, and in that, you get a performance that feels natural for the setting she is in. Seeing the conflict between values and morals that she suffers allows the audience to take an introspective view into her character and therefore into both world views. Alongside Awkwafina, we get touching performances by a gaggle of goofy cast members, each providing a necessary element to balance this film into a heartfelt yet light-hearted viewing experience.
While The Farewell may seem like a daunting watch when you read the synopsis, it surprisingly shows itself to be a relatively relaxed story, attempting to provide a soft departure instead of a heavy hitting torrent of sorrow. It had some moments that felt choppy and struggled to adequately transition from one scene to the next, but overall I found myself deeply satisfied.
The cinematography in this film enhances the film’s storytelling and emotional beats through the use of the wide-open lens and naturalistic lighting choices. The camera-work assists the atmosphere of the film such as adding energy to a quick rotating camera in a table or the wide aspect ratio that contains group shots to get a sense of family dynamics. Like its narrative, great care has been applied to the compositions in this film
The locations sought out in this movie are incredibly authentic to its narrative allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story. Alex Weston’s score provides moments of euphoria through the impactful use of violins that build upon the emotions needing to be conveyed in each scene. While I feel like the score could have been more present in the film, it strikes the perfect note at the right time.
The Farewell achieves the task of exploring what it means to grieve; but more importantly, what grieving really means for each individual, who it is for, and whether we can define what a moral way to grieve is. Alongside this we see the stark realities and confusing dilemmas one encounters when they are ethnically and culturally intermingled. Director Lulu Wang has done a fantastic job at producing a personal story that works first and foremost as an entertaining and touching film, I’m interested to see where else she could take us. With a slow-burning rhythm and heartfelt conclusion, The Farewell suits its name, providing audiences with just the right amount of closure to feel satisfied.