February 3, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Review: “The Farewell”


THE FAREWELL (A24):  Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is what could be called Sundance Classic, a small, very personal film nurtured by the festival into wide enough attention that A24 paid $6M to release it.  It’s based on Wang’s own life, so much so that it would be a spoiler to reveal the caption to the family footage that ends the film.  Wang’s stand-in is Billi (Awkwafina, looking like a star in her first leading and mostly dramatic role), a Chinese-American aspiring writer who learns what everyone in the family is keeping from her grandmother:  their beloved Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has late stage lung cancer.  No one thinks Billi can keep the secret (and she’s not sure she wants to, because why shouldn’t her grandmother know the truth), so they don’t tell her that her cousin’s marriage to a Japanese woman has been hurriedly set for China to allow the family to say an unofficial goodbye to its matriarch.  When Billi finds out, she insists on coming along, and the drama and humor of the story stem from her ambivalent efforts to keep her mouth shut.  Along the way, we also observe the family in action, as old grudges emerge, and they all navigate the rituals of the wedding, a graveside visit, and other encounters.  The Farewell doesn’t try to be any more than it is, and that’s enough, as it develops the rich relationships between Billi and her father (Tzi Ma) and mother (Diana Lin), as well as her father’s with his brother (Jiang Yongbo).  Underlying the smaller tale is a story about the way life inevitably changes, reflected in the very architecture of Nai Nai’s neighborhood, and the family’s farewell to the China they remembered.  The Farewell is filled with precise, beautifully realized moments, and it balances its sentiment with believable humor.  It’s sweet, fair to its characters and insightful.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."