Lulu Wang's The Farewell (2019): A Family-Centric Ruse

Image by zz zhang fro Pixabay
Very few family comedies or dramas manage to be realistic. Often the funny ones depict family units that are overly perfect or idealistic, and the serious ones rely on lots of upsetting family drama and tears to manipulate the audience into feeling something. Lulu Wang's The Farewell does neither and manages to provide a window into one Chinese family's reality and the way they deal with a family emergency.

To be fair, the realism was bound to be there as this story is based on a real event that happened, directed by one of the people to which it happened, and many of the scenes played out exactly as shown in real life. The monologues don't seem scripted because . . . they aren't. In the film, we meet Billi (Awkwafina), a young professional Chinese woman who lives in America. She adores her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) and is understandably upset when her parents tell her that Nai Nai has 3 months to live due to cancer. The family has decided that it's best that Nai Nai doesn't know about her diagnosis. In order to see her before she dies, they mastermind a plan that Billi's cousin Hao Hao needs a quick wedding put together. In this way, they can all justify all of the family coming together for an international trip.

Billi is the only one against this plan. Of course, this would never happen in America. Individuals have total control over their healthcare by HIPA law, so it's hard to understand how this is even realistic. The family tell her to stay at home since they feel she is too emotional and will give it away, but against their will, Billi comes anyway.

This set up a somewhat wacky ruse where everyone lies to Nai Nai and the audience knows it. Part of the fun is wondering if anyone will crack and allow the truth to come out. While the story is undeniably funny, it's an everyday amusing type of humor, where the humor comes from seeing how Billi's adorable grandma deals with the wedding. She is obviously the center of the family. And even though the plot is full of authentic details to match the Chinese culture from which it all happened, the situations seem relatable. My friend from Taiwan tells me that her family plays the drinking game shown at the wedding and that the Tai Chi power strikes Nai Nai does each morning ring true, as well.

So it's realistic, relatable, funny, and moving. You can listen to the podcast recording of Lulu telling the full story here.