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Film Review: The Farewell

“Chinese People Have A Saying; When People Get Cancer, They Die…”

First released to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to overly positive critical and audience reviews, The Farewell comes to British cinemas this week with an impressively widespread general release, particularly for a movie which predominantly relies on the use of subtitles, an art of which the lay cinema fan still seems to strangely shy away from. Directed and written by Beijing born filmmaker, Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a comedic drama based in-part on her own experience involving her elderly grandmother who was hidden from the truth of her terminal cancer diagnosis by her own family, a decision of which in Chinese culture is apparently relatively common and surprisingly lawful. Portrayed as a sort of indie inspired, heartfelt comedy from its’ supporting trailer, Wang’s movie is indeed an interesting, minimal and contemplative piece, one which takes much pleasure in exploring a particular culture completely alien to that of most Westerners including myself, but with a strangely flat pacing and a onenote idea which runs out of steam come the hour mark, The Farewell is clearly a project made with an abundance of passion, but as a film, failed to completely draw me in on an emotional level and thus come the final hurdle, becomes slightly benign and immediately forgettable.

Following up from interesting supporting performances in the likes of Ocean’s 8 and the vastly superior cultural comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina this time takes the lead role as Billi, the supposed fictional stand-in for Wang who upon hearing about her family’s decision to hide the traumatic news from her grandmother, Nai Nai, played in a rather excellent form by Zhao Shuzhen, takes the long trip over to China in order to engage in a makeshift family wedding, a particular event used as an excuse for the family to reunite in order to see their beloved matriarch for potentially the final time. With the comedic quips minimal in favour of long, drawn-out shots of contemplative nothingness, the pace of the movie does feel bafflingly lifeless, and even when at the heart of the story is a plot device which should naturally woo the hearts of even the sturnest audience member, the truth is that at no time did I really care about anyone on-screen throughout the course of a hundred minutes which in all honesty, felt closer to the two hour mark, a negative aspect if ever there was one. With my mind not fully engaged therefore, the excellent performances do sort of become taken for granted, whilst the interesting cultural examinations don’t really make any real difference, and with a concluding act which doesn’t make any narrative sense and sort of makes the entire point of the movie completely pointless, Wang’s movie is clearly made with a lot of heart, but it still lacked that key ingredient you need from a drama; drama.

Overall Score: 6/10