A review of the charming but poignant film “The Farewell”

This mostly Mandarin-speaking film is billed as “based on a true lie”. since it is the lightly-fictionalised experience of writer and director Chinese-American Lulu Wang. The lie in question is the deceit perpetrated by the family of Chinese grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) when she is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer and given little time to live. She is not told that she is ill, but instead treated to an unprecedented family reunion through the device of a hastily-arranged marriage.

The events – amusing, moving, sad, poignant – are seen from the point of view of Nai Nai’s beloved granddaughter Billi, played with sensitivity by rapper-turned-actor Awkwafina (real name Nora Lum) whom I saw in “Ocean’s 8”.

Most of the narrative is set in the north-eastern Chinese city of Changchun, a metropolis with the population of London that is totally unknown to almost everyone outside China (including me). In fact, I have visited China four times and spent many hours in Chinese flats eating huge meals in large family gatherings, just as is featured so often in “The Farewell”, so much of the movie really resonated with me.

But, anyone with a heart will enjoy this delightful film with its subtle comparison of cultures and portrayal of very different – but all too human – characters, all of whom mean well.


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