The Farewell

2019, US/China, 100 min.

Billi (Awkafina) is an independent, Chinese-American woman who receives two pieces of shocking news. First, her beloved grandmother in China, Nai Nai (Shuzen Zhao), has a terminal cancer diagnosis—and that is hidden from her by her sister. Then, instead of dealing with the grim news directly, her family is heading back to say goodbye via a hastily arranged wedding for her grandson. The arrangement enrages Billi, but she plays along and discovers that there’s no one definition of love. For a movie focused on an elaborate ruse, director-writer Lulu Wang (working from an event in her own life) eschews the broad and obvious. Her characters are regular people, struggling with their life choices, whether it’s Billi realizing that her grandmother is the last remnant of her childhood in China or a dinner conversation on American education that turns into a thinly veiled debate on opportunity abroad versus domestic loyalty. But this winning, finely crafted movie runs through Zhao’s sly, winning performance, which reveals that tradition, coupled with flexibility and self-awareness, is a balm for life’s onslaught.