USA, China (2019) 1hr 40mins minutes.
Directors/writers: Lulu Wang
Cast: Shuzhen Zhao (Nai Nai), Awkwafina (Billi), Tsi Ma (Haiyan), Diana Lin (Lu Jian)
Screening 13 October 2021 at Swindon Arts Centre
In this funny, uplifting tale based on an actual lie, Chinese-born, US-raised Billi reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members now scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken.
The push and pull between the bonds of blood and the ties of culture are explored with a light touch and a perceptive eye for detail in this delightful, semi-autobiographical family drama from writer and director Lulu Wang.
Chinese American Billi has a foot in each of the two countries. The American tendency to freely share thoughts and feelings collides with the Chinese way of parcelling up emotions.
A hastily convened wedding provides the cover story to bring the extended family back to China to bid farewell to their unwitting matriarch.
As gifted a writer as she is at creating playful, visually layered frames, Lulu Wang is constantly juggling clashes: of cultures, of tragedy and joy. Ultimately, it’s all about balance, a yin and yang of roots and identities, humour and pathos that comes together into a satisfying, bittersweet wedding banquet of a movie.
Wendy Ide, The Guardian
Back in 2016, on NPR’s podcast This American Life, the writer-director Lulu Wang recounted a trip to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother. Her family, however, had issued strict instructions that no one discuss the disease around her. She hadn’t been told about the stage-four cancer ravaging her body. Her X-ray results were waved off as showing only “benign shadows”. It’s a common practice in Chinese families, since it’s believed the stress of the diagnosis may only worsen a person’s condition. Instead, everyone came together under the pretence that they were celebrating her grandson’s wedding. Tears had to be stifled under smiles and laughter, so as not to give the game away.
Her avatar here is Billi, a Brooklyn-based writer who’s entered her thirties with no money and no prospects. She’s a woman lost at sea, about to lose the only thing that tethered her to the past.
When she’s finally faced with Nai Nai, Billi’s face contorts into a snapshot of combusting grief. She’s trying so hard not to weep, she looks physically in pain. Her grandmother just shrugs and blames it on the jet lag. Cornering her parents, Billi demands to know why everyone seems so content to hide their grief. Her mother snaps back: if she doesn’t cry, does that automatically mean she doesn’t care?
Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent
- Awkwafina (Billi) won the 2020 Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
- On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98%.
- Barack Obama listed The Farewell among his favourite films of 2019. We wonder what Trump might make of it…