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The Farewell

Year: 2019
Production Co: Big Beach Films
Director: Lulu Wang
Writer: Lulu Wang
Cast: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao

This is another movie that wouldn't exist without Hollywood's current terror-stricken drive for diversity and inclusion. That isn't a way of saying it isn't well made or interesting (it is), but strip away the prestige and cachet good racial representation can get you in today's movie marketplace and you'd be left with a mildly affecting domestic drama.

Awkwafina plays a real character instead of popping up here and there just because she's famous and because she lets some cynical production company or studio tick an inclusion box in their casting. Billi lives in New York where her parents moved the family when she was little, trying to make it as a writer and hitting her latest stumbling block when she's rejected for a much anticipated fellowship she's applied for.

Her parents then drop a further bombshell – her beloved grandmother back in China is dying of cancer. In keeping with the family/eastern tradition and much to Billi's horror having been raised in the individualistic West, the extended family has decided not to tell Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) about the extent of the disease and her approaching fate to spare her the emotional burden.

Her parents, fearful Billi will crack and spill the beans to Nai Nai to assuage her own fear and sadness, try to forbid her from joining the gathering family back in China, but she ignores them, reconnecting with the various uncles, aunts and cousins. Nai Nai is delighted to be surrounded by her nearest and dearest but everyone else feels varying degrees of guilt at the secret they're keeping.

They arrange a grand banquet Nai Nai thinks is a family party to celebrate the impending marriage of one of Billi's cousins to his Japanese girlfriend, but she has no idea it's actually her own send-off.

It's a case of the overarching story holding all the emotional import rather than any one scene or moment. One of Billi's uncles breaks down spectacularly during the banquet speeches, but other than that the actual happenstance on screen is mostly kitchen sink drama about family members quietly wrestling with their (and each others') consciences.

For that reason not much of it really sticks out in my memory, but it's obvious this film is to writer/director Lulu Wang what Roma was to Alfonso Cuaron – staged, dressed and executed in a way that makes you really experience and appreciate life for a modern family in China. The chance to stand in someone else's shoes and get a glimpse of their culture alone makes it a worthy film to watch, even if it's not a particularly riveting story to follow.

Most interestingly of all however, it flopped in China. Was it because audiences there are primed only for Fast & Furious sequels and Dwayne Johnson romps, not really having a taste for drama, or did they reject Wang's vision of their life and country more consciously?

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