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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
The Farewell is a funny, uplifting tale “based on an actual lie” but the meaningful truths it reveals couldn’t be more poignant or meaningful. Chinese born, US raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to her hometown in China to find that although their beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given just weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. It is instead decided that the family will hold a lavish wedding as an excuse to bring everyone together one last time.
Although the story is personal and culturally specific, it resonates with a wider audience through its vivid depiction of a family in the midst of crisis. Despite the sombre subject matter, Nai Nai herself delivers plenty of laughs through her brutally frank observations and zingers which mostly come from a place of love. The film also explores the cultural differences between East and West and across generations without judgement or bias as to whose approach is best.
Billi represents a woman caught between cultures and the desire to protect a loved one vs the ethics of hiding a cruel truth - it’s this struggle that gives the film weight and poise, ensuring it is both delightfully wry and deeply heartfelt. Ever so slowly, Wang allows us to realise that Billi’s visit is about more than just saying goodbye to her grandmother; it’s also a chance to reconnect with the China she left behind at age 3, the fond but hazy memory of which she’s been clinging to all this time, never entirely allowing herself to acclimate to her new home in America.
The film masterfully interweaves a gently humorous depiction of a “good lie” with a richly moving story of how family can unite and strengthen us, often in spite of ourselves. OV: A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family's decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.