Sundance London ’19: ‘The Farewell’ Review

‘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.

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