Do you know how difficult it is to suppress a sob while sitting in a room full of strangers?
I knew The Farewell would be special; the moment I ran into the trailer on Twitter, it was after my chest felt a bit tighter that I knew I would love it. Yet, I still found myself surprised by the stream of endless tears that started running down my face about 15 minutes into the film.
Last year I visited Mexico for the first time in 12 years. My uncle had recently passed away and my mom wanted me to visit my grandma since she’s been fairly sick for a while, so I worked through my hesitation and jumped on a plane. The week was an emotional week; it was full of tears, singing, dancing, laughing and hugging. I worked through my feelings of not being Mexican enough and struggled with my Spanish until I felt less self-conscious about it. I sat with my grandmother as she caressed my face over and over again and yet none of the time spent together felt long enough.
So as I sat there watching The Farewell, I found a part of my story. Sure the culture was different and the language was completely foreign to me, yet it all felt so extremely familiar. The movie follows one big secret; Billi (played by Awkwafina) and her parents travel to Changchun, in northeastern China, where her grandmother (or Nai Nai) has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The family has decided to keep this fact from Nai Nai and we watch as they use a shotgun wedding as an excuse to get the entire family together. The ensemble cast was absolutely exceptional, every single one of them giving us the perfect amount of vulnerability and humor when needed.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to see Akwafina as a dramatic lead. She emotes feelings in a beautiful way which makes it all look effortless. Her journey as Billi found a direct line to my heart immediately. I have often been asked by my family to stay away from a situation because I get too emotional. I have struggled to find words in Spanish in the middle of a conversation. I have been lost and broke and tried to keep it all from my parents. Billi, to me, felt like home. Awkwafina portrayed it all exquisitely and her chemistry with the entire ensemble cast was palpable.
The real joy in the film came from Nai Nai, who was played by Zhao Shuzhen. She was tender, she was strong, she was overprotective and she played it all perfectly. I immediately felt connected to her, she radiated positive energy on the screen and demanded your attention during every scene she was in.
The Farewell is a gift. Writer/ Director Lulu Wang created something universal with sharing her extremely personal story. She gave us an unapologetic look into her family and we are so much better for it. She found a way to find life lessons in the smallest of moments, to find love in a reassuring look, to find understanding in the middle of the night and to find family when you don’t realize just how much you need it.
This film arrived at a perfect time. I have recently been struggling with the idea that my existence will always be a small part in the large dynamic of my crazy family. My decisions are not just my own, my life is part of a bigger picture and I’m still working out whether that’s okay or not. So thank you Lulu Wang. Thank you for creating something so relatable out of something so deeply personal. The Farewell is a necessary viewing experience and sure, you’ll leave the theater a bit dehydrated but it’s absolutely worth it.
Go hug your grandma.