“Life is not just about what you do. It’s more about how you do it.”-The Farewell
Released: July 19th, 2019. Dir: Lulu Wang
Summary: Billi’s family returns to China under the guise of a fake wedding to stealthily say goodbye to their beloved matriarch — the only person that doesn’t know she only has a few weeks to live.
Original Rating: 10/10
Short Explanation: A beautiful movie, acted brilliantly by Awkwafina who proves that her range extends far beyond Crazy Rich Asians. The sets were absolutely gorgeous and in terms of a story, I couldn’t ask for better.
Long Explanation: I wanted to watch this movie because I knew it was another Oscars snub and I’m in the process of reliving the Oscars by actually watching some of the movies. But, before I get to films like The Irishman and Jojo Rabbit, I wanted to check out some of the films that deserved an Oscar and didn’t get one. This is one of those films.
This movie is based on a novel by the director Lulu Wang. I haven’t read this book, but in backward fashion, I will probably check it out now. The movie follows an Asian American immigrant family as they travel back home to see family in the wake of the news that their Nai Nai has been diagnosed with cancer. The main character, Billi, is an aspiring writer who finds herself having to depend on her family for a place to stay and somewhere to do her laundry. In some sense, I really liked the dynamics between Billi’s family. There is often this stigma that immigrant parents aren’t supportive of their children’s dreams but Billi’s parents, aside from some snide remarks, are pretty supportive of her. They often check to make sure that she has enough money to buy food and sustain her living. This is especially shown when Billi uses what’s left of her own money to fly to China.
Much of Billi’s character is torn between guilt and duty as well as her American and Chinese cultures. In America, it is illegal to withhold medical information from a patient; while, in China, it is not illegal to withhold medical information from a patient. Billi knows this, yet she feels as though her Nai Nai should know that she’s sick. Some of the logic behind telling her, is that if she knows that she’s sick, she won’t live a happy life because she will always be waiting for the end. I think this is where much of Awkwafina’s range is displayed. She proves that comedians can be serious and in much of that sense, she reminds of Adam Sandler, who, when given the right material, can be a strong actor.
I also think that part of why I loved this movie is that it hits close to home. Being an immigrant child, you often sacrifice being able to visit your family when you want to. When you do get the chance to visit, there is always the pull to move back and be closer to your family. I especially adored the scene at the dining table where the family is discussing which place is better, China or America. It’s such an accurate portrayal of the inner struggle of an immigrant. Your heart always belongs to one country, even if your passport says something different.
Also in terms of the immigrant experience, the cinematography at the end of the movie had me tearing up. I adored how the camera was capturing the moments as they said good-bye and that overwhelming instinct to turn around and watch your relatives grow smaller and smaller. I loved the scene at the car on the way to the airport where Billi was looking at her parents as they slept like they were insane to miss every last view of their homeland. I think that having Lulu Wang write and direct this movie, she was able to relate to the immigrant experience and accurately portray, something that I feel like was lost in a movie like The Namesake (a very prominent case of a movie losing what made the book special).
The was a strong usage of space in this movie. There were shots of just rooms in the house in China or in America which brought forward this recurring idea of the definition of a home. The shots that focused on the room before it was filled with people makes the audience almost feel like they are questioning along with Billi where her true home is. It’s something that I’ve done multiple times, even though I was born and raised here in the States.
Overall, I think this movie was absolutely brilliant. I liked how it stayed true to language and was very unapologetic about having the characters speak in their native tongues. It was subtle and understated and it felt more like an autobiography than anything. I feel like Billi and the director are meant to be the same. Though I haven’t read this book yet, it is pretty high on my list. I definitely think it should’ve been nominated for Best Adaptive Script and Best Director. She’s right up there with Greta Gerwig in terms of talent and vision.
Afterthought Rating: 10/10
Overall Conclusion: I highly recommend this movie for anyone. It had a strong plot, director, and wonderful actors. It’s a beautiful testimony to the struggles that any immigrant family suffers through and the representation of culture in such a subtle way that this movie will resonate with anyone.