The Farewell opens with the words “Based on an Actual Lie.”
It is a gorgeous movie, written and directed by Lulu Wang and features Awkafina in a dramatic starring role as “Billi”, the granddaughter who comes home to Changchun to see her Nai Nai (Grandmother) for the last time.
The lie is the tent pole for the film because Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the family has decided not to tell her. Instead, a rushed wedding is arranged as the pretext for everyone to gather and pay respects to Nai Nai.
The film’s emotional resonance lies in the truth and the feelings that aren’t being verbalized. The characters often say one thing with their words and another with their eyes or faces. Wang uses directness and indirectness as a literal metaphor, often framing shots with characters looking or talking off-screen to another character that is not visible.
An aspect of the film that I identified with was the feeling and experience of traveling back to China from the States. Billi finds her way to her Nai Nai’s apartment in Changchun where all the relatives are gathered. She is heartily greeted by all the family as dinner is being prepared. Similar to me, Billi is not 100 percent fluent in Chinese and there are feelings of awkwardness when she communicates in front of her relatives.
The Farewell revolves around the love between a grandparent and the grandchild that is coming home.
Billi and Nai Nai are more than just “grands” to each other—they are bffs. They talk on the phone every day.
Nai Nai and Billi’s relationship is special and strong.
Not being able to tell her grandmother the truth is the heartbreak. Billi is caught between her desire to tell her Nai Nai the truth, and the rest of the family’s feelings that they are doing the best thing by NOT telling Nai Nai.
The relationship between grandchild and grandparent is the heartstring in tension and constantly tugged here.
And that is what makes this film worth seeing.