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Say Hello to Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell”

In a heartfelt and authentic story exploring the intersection between family dynamics and cross-cultural expectations, writer/director Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” is a delightful and moving Chinese-American drama full of laughter and heartbreak, internal and external conflict and rekindled connection. 

With just a 98 minute run-time, the successful indie film follows Chinese-American Billi (played by Awkwafina) and her family, who, upon learning of their grandmother’s cancer diagnosis, returns to China under the guise of a wedding to bid farewell to their unsuspecting matriarch. 

Throughout the film, the audience gains insight into a fictionalized version of Wang’s own experiences through Billi, who struggles to suppress her own grief and frustration of withholding her grandma’s own diagnosis from her.   

Aside from having a well-written storyline, this film is a movie for people who love cinema, said Dr. James Wicks, an associate professor of literature and film studies. According to Dr. Wicks, while there are many movies appreciated for their story, “The Farewell” being no exception, the composition of each scene is especially unique. 

 “The color and the lighting, the unstable camera movement — it’s just all very appealing as an audience when the narrative appears to be moving slowly,” said Dr. Wicks. “It never feels boring because there is so much for the eye to be interested in, which allows an audience to sustain the concept of the movie long enough to think about and work through them.” 

Wang’s knack for creating a visually-binding film is evident in a series of cinematic moments throughout the film. The moments are both thought-provoking and nuanced, said Dr. Wicks, giving a refreshing take on storytelling for audiences. 

“The Farewell”, box-office favorite “Crazy Rich Asian”s and the Netflix rom-com “Always Be My Maybe” are essential examples of bringing cultural appreciation and understanding to mainstream media. 

As an Asian-American female myself, I feel that “The Farewell” does an exceptional job of showing cultural conflicts and making it seem both natural and relatable, all the while telling a beautifully captivating story. With the fairly recent rise of Asian/Asian-American representation on the big screen, it is exciting to welcome a fresh voice and vision into storytelling, especially one who leads diversity into the conversation in such a genuine and passionate way.  

Even for those who are unfamiliar with Asian culture, the movie is rich with universally meaningful truths, says professor of American literature, Dr. Karl Martin.  “I was able to relate even though I have no Chinese heritage. The family aspect transcends the racial or ethnic identity of this particular family, making it a film that anyone could identify with and understand,” said Martin. “It introduced me to a world I never would have had much access to, which I think is one of the things a good film can do for us.”

What makes “The Farewell” unique in contrast to typical Hollywood movies is the film deals with more mundane, economic situations and means, and, according to Dr. Wicks, “As [the film] deals with the relationship of a granddaughter with her grandmother, it deals with a family dynamic isn’t as often represented.

“The way that translates to a Western audience that might not understand Chinese culture is through different kinds of universal ideas — the importance of family, aging, confronting death, family tensions, young people trying to find a career after a university in a new environment — I think those kind of topics are really relevant and people appreciated seeing them explored.” 

“The Farewell” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and its instant success eventually brought it to the theaters, where the movie received an initial 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

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Kayla Wong

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