Combustible Celluloid
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With: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shu-zhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara, Zhang Jing, Li Xiang, Yang Xuejian, Jim Liu
Written by: Lulu Wang
Directed by: Lulu Wang
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking
Language: Mandarin, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 07/12/2019

The Farewell (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Secret Ode

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This hit indie by writer/director Lulu Wang beautifully manages to tell a cohesive story about two different cultures, remaining nonjudgmental and balanced on both sides. Yet The Farewell also avoids becoming preachy, and is instead a touchingly emotional tale, thanks largely to a surprisingly nuanced dramatic performance by Awkwafina, as well as by the septuagenarian non-professional Zhao Shuzhen. Awkwafina plays Billi, who lives in the United States and tries to become a writer; she speaks English first, and her Mandarin is somewhat lacking. When she learns that her beloved grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao) is dying, she flies home. She is nonplussed to discover that her family is keeping Nai Nai in the dark about her own illness, while the family organizes a wedding so that the family can gather to say farewell. Wang creates drama out of the clash between Billi's ideals and language and those of her Chinese family, as well as the impending death of Nai Nai, and at the same time conveys the logic behind keeping the secret. It's an open-hearted film that also has the power to open eyes.

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