Film Review : The Farewell

The film opens with Billi talking in Chinese on her mobile to her grandmother Nei Nei, as she walks down the street.  Then, whilst still on the line and in one of the many deceptively clever shots, Billi engages in a quick chat with a passer in English, complete with a New York accent.  Nei Nei is in China whilst Billi is in America.

Her Chinese parents moved the family to America when Billi was 6 allowing for an engaging side-line later in the film, that delves into where peoples roots are located, whether they are cultivated from where you are born or from life experiences.

Soon Billi becomes aware that everyone, her parents, aunts, nephews and cousins included, know that Nei Nei has been diagnosed with a category 4 (the worst) type of cancer.  Billi is only the second to last person to know this because no-one has told Nei Nei.

In China it is considered that the burden of bad news is better dealt with by the family and only passed to the person affected at the last minute.  Even Nei Nei took that approach with her husband.

So, in an attempt to allow the disparate family a chance to say their farewells, a wedding is organised.   Much fun is had at the expense of the very young, uncomfortable, couple who have only been dating for 3 months, who have their nascent affections exposed to the unwanted comments such as “Is she pregnant?” etc.

As well as delivering a cleverly nuanced script that allows family rivalries and values to flare up over those claustrophobic affairs called meal time, Wang delivers lovely demonstrations of how use of the full expanse of screen, creating multiple scenes with one shot.

In particular the dress fitting and photo session as Nei Nei delivers snippets of her life experiences to Billi, in the background the new couple can be seen desperately trying but failing magnificently to look in love.

The scene in the graveyard where foods are presented to Billi’s long-deceased grandad delivers the line “Let him have a smoke. He’s already dead.”

Words by Ged Camera

Written & directed by Lulu Wang