Right from birth, it seems that most Americans are trained to do life by looking out for oneself, not others. With lessons about math and science prioritized in school over teaching healthy social skills, most people in the States do not seem accustomed to living life with a “you are greater than I” mentality, or that the purpose of living is even for anything besides self. I learned that people in Spain are all about being sociable, their meals last on average about two hours, just to make more time for talking! The rest of the world seems to understand how to do life better than America. I wish I had known that more when I was in junior high and high school, how I as an autistic person struggled with making friends back then! That’s why The Farewell is so valuable, it challenges all teachers and parents worldwide how we should be instructing the ways of the next generation: it’s all about us.
Its “arthouse cinema” approach holds back on the repulsiveness of cancer, while probably not the best directorial vision in concern to common audiences, helps to allow room for family bonding as the camera lingers on their lives shared purely through eye-contact. Especially when they talk about stocks around a rotating dinner table, your thinking is challenged as to how these individuals are dealing with life alone.
Although it’s overall a beautiful study of the melancholic spirit, director and screenwriter Lulu Wang misses out on some critical details. Her protagonist, Billie, doesn’t have complete enough of a relationship with each of her extended family members, especially her betrothed cousin, Hao Hao, whom she barely ever even makes eye contact with. While she’s got a well-developed bond with her parents and Nai Nai, none of them have enough of their own character arcs. If there was more to help tell the relatives apart without letting their personalities mesh together, then more of a lasting impact would be guaranteed for more than just the arthouse audience. Speaking of audience, there really wasn’t a reason for this movie to be rated PG, it would have been better for it to go for an R-rating to exploit the harsh realities of life with all the difficult things grownups must say to each other.
Yet the problems in the script are gladly made up for with the near-perfect direction. Lulu Wang starts the feature appropriately with Billie calling Nai Nai on the phone from New York to put you in her point of view, then follows with a CT scan to make you afraid immediately how the rest of the film will play out. Even with closeups in a dinner scene shot from behind shoulders, every image following is balanced and fluid like moving down a timeline with its controlled elements moving within the screen. But the pictures would mean nothing without the dense, and often hilarious conversations; one of the more memorable explains how it’s easier to get rich in China than in the States, it ironically makes you worried about your own life, whether you live in China or the States.
From Billie’s end of her episodic family, she’s not yet out of the nest into the real world like she thinks, as symbolized by a small bird that is seen in her room more than once. Even when she’s with her extended family eating the meat pies she’s so familiar with from growing up, it’s an expression of what gives meaning to her and the one who makes those pies. The sad music with strings in the score knows when it’s appropriate to accompany her mood, like typical funeral music that’s intending to sound lively; it reflects the laughter from sorrow the family faces over and over, even during a wedding drinking game. Also seen multiple times behind her is a fish tank, as if she’s always sitting in a hospital waiting room for a verdict to arrive from some doctor. What verdict could she possibly want? Well, that’s the tricky thing, because everyone in the family is aware that Nai Nai has lung cancer… everyone, except Nai Nai.
Believe it or not, lying about cancer is the normal thing to do in China. So appropriately, this being directed by one who lived through this very thing, it’s of course treated with the greatest of respect. Lulu Wang even casted her real life “Little Nai Nai” (or her grandmother’s sister) as the Little Nai Nai of this movie! Because this movie is so deeply personal, that means the humor is of absolute sincerity; it’s funny to see burn marks on Billie’s back after she gets a supposedly relaxing spa treatment, and it’s downright hilarious when someone gives a defense as to why he thinks leaving a burnt cigarette on a tombstone is a good idea. But the laughter ironically helps the unpleasant moments hit your gut much harder; a little thing such as an argument over crabs and lobsters says a lot about what gets these people angry, and the aggressive way Billie plays the piano disheartens you with what she resorts to as to drown out her family’s turmoil.
All these seemingly meaningless moments work together as a complete unit to help you see what family is like in the East, when a person’s life is part of a whole unit. It’s not every day you can say something so important about such a little a movie!
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Farewell. A24. Web. <https://a24films.com/films/the-farewell>.
Nicolaou, Elena. “The Farewell Is Based On A True Story, Which Is Still Sort Of A Secret.” Refinery29. 12 Jul 2019. Web. <https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/07/237656/the-farewell-movie-true-story-real-chinese-family-npr >.
Rubin, Rebecca. “Box Office: ‘The Farewell’ Surpasses ‘Avengers: Endgame’ For Biggest Theater Average of the Year.” Digital image. Variety. WordPress, 14 Jul 2019. Web. <https://variety.com/2019/film/box-office/the-farewell-box-office-per-theater-average-awkwafina-lulu-wang-1203267055/>.