A deceptively gentle miracle of a film.
Delivered as it is with such a light touch, writer-director Lulu Wang and her cast and crew have created something deceptively, gently miraculous in The Farewell. It’s a beautiful balance of the hilarity, devastation, nuance, and absurdity specific to the inevitable clash between tradition and diaspora, in this case Chinese family spread between America, Japan, and China, which reunites to visit the grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), whom they have pledged not to tell she is dying.
Awkwafina‘s performance as Billi is lovely, and the entire cast wonderfully fills out the story Wang tells, taken from her own life, and presents within tableaus which seem simple but which each contain multitudes of emotions, intersections, and humanity. The Farewell exudes happy-cry-inducing authenticity and sheer love on every level. Just… wow.
With so many characters and perspectives, traditional coverage (that is, individual close-ups, mid shots and wide shots fn each of each of the performers individually, as well as together) was not an option within the limited time and budget of the film. “We couldn’t do the safe version,” explains Wang of their opting instead for “the ambitious version”: she and cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano “came up with the cinematic language and just went with it”. The Farewell‘s cinematic language is explored in this breakdown from In Depth Cine:
Lulu Wang shows three versions of the screenplay, in both Chinese and English, and explains the challenges and her unique process of writing a bilingual script (via Vanity Fair):