The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s latest film, is a light-hearted yet insightful investigation on familial bonds and what it means to be “yourself” in the contemporary world. Let yourselves drown in emotion as you laugh your heart out to this soft-whispered tragedy about the fragility – and the strength – of love.
There is a new family story playing in town, and that is Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. With its faint yet vivid colours, Wang’s latest film plunges us into the life (and death) of a modern Chinese household, where Nai Nai, an elderly yet volcanic grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao), gently bosses everyone around, unaware that she might be dying of cancer within months. The other members of the family know about her illness; still, in order not to let her drift away into despair, they decide to keep it a secret, organising a last-minute wedding to have an excuse to gather around her dinner table for a long, long goodbye. Only Billi (Ocean’s 8’s Awkwafina), her favourite grandchild, who has been living in the US with her parents since she was a child, opposes to this plan. To no avail: the family’s will cannot be contrasted, so smiles will have to do as eyes bulge wide with restrained tears.
So be prepared to laugh out loud as you follow hilarious misunderstandings enfolding on the screen, but don’t forget to bring a huge box of tissues with you. Wang definitely knows her way around emotions, and a single stroke of her camera has the power to capsize comedy into a soft-whispered tragedy that puts our troubled consciences directly on trial. Are we being good children to our parents? Are we entitled to leave our roots and traditions behind as we pursue a phantasmatic road to happiness? What is the role that success plays in our personal lives? How can we even define “success”?
Nothing is self-evident in Wang’s Sino-American hybridised world of opulent home-cooked meals and wireless technology, nothing to be taken for granted – not even the hiatus between life and death. The Farewell thus becomes a sensuous exploration of human relationships and of the encoded rituals that keep them together at surface value. Abstaining from a simplistic, exploitative representation of grief, Wang’s camera’s discreet eye rather sublimates it into a light-hearted yet in-depth quest for individual identity. In the midst of a fast-paced society whose mantra is to keep gazing forward and leave everything behind, she savours every moment and takes note of every detail.
With its painting-like, beautifully composed scenes, one really gets the impression that The Farewell was the movie that our hungry, video-gulping hearts were asking for. Stunningly profound yet uncompromisingly pop, this family portrait is definitely more than a conundrum of memories and reciprocated love gone rancid. The Farewell is a delightful coming-of-(emotional)age story about the bliss and the difficulties of love. And maybe this is the reason why we don’t really feel lost as we leave the theatre. Lulu Wang’s film is all about being found in spite of the unrestrainable rush of time. That is why we feel like we have a new spark of sad light warming our chests once we hit the bottom of our bags of popcorn. That is why we would watch The Farewell forever, over and over again.
The Farewell won the Audience Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It was released in the U.S. on 9th August and in the U.K. and select countries on 20th September. It will be screened at the Stockholm Film Festival on 8th November 2019.