2019, Movies

The Farewell (2019, Lulu Wang)

I have no idea how to talk about this film without addressing a major plot point. I’m sure it’s widely known but I consider it a spoiler so…


I’ve seen a number of movies throughout my life where a major plot point is a family member lying to another out of “love.” I hate it and I cannot understand it. Deliberately lying to your loved ones rejects their agency and if there’s one thing you should do with people you love is accept their agency. To me, it is extremely unkind, sometimes even cruel, to decide that someone else should not have agency, that your views of life trump theirs. I understand this difference of opinion about telling the truth to your family members is partially cultural. But at least one of the movies I can remember with this plot point was British, so I’m not sure this particular plot point that I am extremely annoyed by is solely due to a difference between Chinese and western cultural traditions.

So when I learned that nobody in the family wanted to tell the matriarch she has life-ending cancer, I got quite angry. The good news is that this deception is sometimes played for laughs, which is, I think, the only way to do it. After all, this is an absurd idea in part because it’s hard to imagine someone with stage 4 cancer not becoming aware of it before they succumb. Anyway…

I found Awkwafina pretty miscast, or worse, in Renfield, and I was kind of wondering why she was given such a big role. But I completely changed my feelings based on this film. She absolutely is capable of carrying this movie and, though I cannot comment on her Chinese, anyone who is able to do a bilingual role well is admirable. Anyway, I was impressed, though I will admit I had low expectations.

The film has enough humour that I was able to handle the premise. (And depicting isn’t condoning, I understand.) And I felt like everyone is believable. It’s also pretty well paced and it’s well shot even if there’s nothing particularly striking about the way it is filmed (though it is interesting to see Changchun).

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take from the final shot, except that this is more autobiographical than I already assumed. It kind of left me wanting more, as I would like to have seen the drama around actually telling her.

But I mostly enjoyed it. Interested to see more of Wang’s stuff.


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