Graciela Mae is a Filipina studying Film, Television and Digital Production at Royal Holloway, University of London. When she’s not watching films, she’s probably attempting to make films herself. She swears she has other hobbies. Her favourite movies include Rushmore, Cléo from 5 to 7, 20th Century Women, and Carol.
‘That’s the difference between the East and the West… In the East, a person’s life is a part of a whole: Family’
These are the words faced by Awkwafina’s character, Billi, when she questions familial and cultural norms and traditions. An account of Lulu Wang’s own life, The Farewell examines the complexities surrounding one’s attempts at balancing two entirely different worlds. Opposites in their expression of love, Wang straddles the famed dichotomy between the ‘east’ and the ‘west’ in such a tender and loving way, with an evident authentic understanding of the immigrant experience.
‘Based on an actual lie,’ the story of The Farewell was first told in the NPR podcast, This American Life, in 2016. The film chronicles an elaborate lie in the name of providing its terminally-ill matriarch with a ‘farewell’ rid of grief, twisting the reality of her prognosis. In her sophomore feature, Wang takes the comedic tale of life and death back to its homeland. Billi, played by rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina, is a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant who first moved to America at age six. Like many immigrant kids, Billi closes the vast geographical distance with her loved ones through frequent phone calls. It is in one of these calls wherein Billi’s touching relationship with her Nai Nai (the Mandarin term for Grandmother) is introduced.
It’s hard not to expect some gruelling white-saviour storyline when a movie starts with scenic shots of a white, Hollywood A-lister playing a volunteer at an underfunded orphanage in Kolkata, India. Thankfully, Bart Freundlich’s reimagining of the 2006 Susanne Bier Danish drama subverts this. But this subversion, and an iconic scene with Julianne Moore head-banging to Lady Gaga’s ‘The Edge of Glory’, is not enough to add any prowess to a blatantly unremarkable melodrama.
In a cinematic landscape that is currently experiencing a surge of teenage coming-of-age tales, Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) brings another side of the story: the ‘coming-of-age’ as you approach your thirties, a time where the evidence of your twenties is still present despite the looming decade brimmed with higher expectations and the fulfilment of cultural norms. With this offering, Hyde joins the likes of Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour, The Bisexual) in offering authentic and refreshing portrayals of the female millennial experience on screen.
Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, Animals chronicles the antics of party-obsessed best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat). The two have been enjoying their fair share of debauchery in Dublin for more than a decade — as established by the well-worn friendship montage in the film’s opening. Despite the growing comments of dismay from their loved ones, Tyler is seemingly content with their midlife wanderings that refuse to conform to the conventions of the nuclear family, proclaiming (after asking Laura to observe the deafening muteness of the suburb) ‘it’s the non-sound of the suburb. They sell it to you as peace, but it’s death’. While Shawkat’s happy-go-lucky character does not necessarily steer too far away from comedic roles she has played in the past, the film’s milieu amps her unstoppable, and unapologetically American, energy.