I settled down to watch this movie with a very particular set of expectations in mind, namely the fact that it would shamelessly try to tug at my heartstrings and win my favor based on the amount of tears I shed. After all, Lulu Wang's indie hit is technically one of those movies. You know the ones—movies about death and sick loved ones and the depressive state of being utterly unable to do anything but strap in and prepare for that final farewell. Movies that the Hallmark Channel loves to pump out in droves because one of the cheapest ways to validate a film is by moving the viewer to tears.
It's a low blow that dozens of films inflict on their audiences, as if we'll ignore the flaws of the script and the shortcomings of the production team because we're too heartbroken about little Susie dying of pneumonia to judge a film rationally. In all fairness, this strategy has worked out marvelously in the past, evidenced enough by the fact that the Hallmark Channel is running at full capacity with thousands of dewy-eyed mothers tuning in to relive these "classics." Nonetheless, it's still a con. A weak script will weigh its success in our tears, and I was exhausted with that old trick. That's precisely why I readied myself for The Farewell, totally open-minded but with no intention of giving it a single tear that wasn't well-earned by the skill of its storytelling.
Luckily, it seems that Lulu Wang made no particular effort to get me to cry. Unlike Hallmark, Wang put all of her creative power toward sharing a simple, powerful little story about grief, family, and drifting apart and away. The film didn't drown me in pandering displays of mourning, sobbing, and heartbreak. Instead, Wang's principle goal is to perform a unified narrative, to take a snapshot of a family in mourning with as much accuracy as possible. There's no gimmick or exaggerated drama, no underhanded scheme to milk the viewer for tears, and I left the theater feeling thoroughly appreciated as an audience member.
In fact, I've grown so used to tearjerkers and tacky cancer movies that the authenticity of the film impressed me perhaps a bit more than it should have. For one thing, it was refreshing to witness how the characters in this film crack and break down in ways that are always understandable and believable. Like at a wedding, drunk and feeling like you're going to vomit with how tightly you're clenching in your tears. Or hugging your dying grandmother for what feels like the final time, sobbing quietly in the back of a cab once she can no longer see you. That's what was so softly brilliant about this film: there's no sense of artifice. Nothing feels fake or disingenuous. Though there is an overall shadow of mourning veiled across the entire narrative, the film, like the actual process of grieving, is threaded with moments of levity and comedy. The tones may be muted, but all the right colors are present to create a complete and genuine image of grief.
There's no screaming lover or devastated child clawing at the skirt of poor dying Nai Nai. There's no cheesy, manic confession from her family that she's dying, a dramatic ploy that a lesser film surely would have used. Instead, The Farewell puts drama and pretense to the side and does one of the noblest things that one of these kinds of movies can do: tell a true story, and tell it well. Ultimately, without giving away the plot and allowing you to enjoy this refreshing indie drama for yourself, I can say that I came away from the film with a strong sense of appreciation over anything else.
True, Wang engages in a much-needed discourse about what it means to be "American," as well as adding a strong addition to the growing push for more Asian representation in popular media; however, for now I choose to leave these merits in the hands of my fellow writers. For now, I simply want to share how the film affected me on a more emotional level. I want to engage with the film on a purely personal level and salute Lulu Wang for straightening out what's wrong with the "grief genre" by giving us a simple but effective example of how these topics should be treated.
So, yes, I appreciate Lulu Wang's refusal to whitewash her cast and her steps towards expanding our perception of the American identity, but I also appreciate the way she strips away the dressing and convoluted subplots which have become so typical of films that investigate grief. I appreciate how she shows me a family at odds by the familiar pettiness of their awkward dinner conversations or by their silent inability to accept how they've all drifted apart over the years, an undetected tragedy. And most of all, I appreciate how Wang shows me life as I live it and grief as I have suffered it, without the drama, the spectacle, and the gimmick.
- 'The Farewell' Review: Vulnerability & Lying in the Culture ›
- 'The Farewell' Brings An Asian-American Narrative To Hollywood ›
- The Farewell at an AMC Theatre near you. ›
- The Farewell (2019) - Rotten Tomatoes ›
- The Farewell (2019) - Box Office Mojo ›
- The Farewell (2019) | Fandango ›
- The Farewell (2019) - IMDb ›
- The Farewell (2019 film) - Wikipedia ›
- People Are Saying "The Farewell" Is The Best Movie Of The Year ... ›
- The Farewell Movie Review & Film Summary (2019) | Roger Ebert ›
- THE FAREWELL | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube ›
- The Farewell | A24 ›