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Movie Review: ‘The Farewell’

“The Farewell” is a profound film on a number of levels.

It’s a search by a young woman for self-identity.

It’s a story about familial conflict, understanding and love.

And it’s a look at the ethics and morality of emotional truth-seekers.

Billi (Awkwafina) is a twentysomething Chinese woman living in New York City. She’s an aspiring writer. She’s dejected after receiving a rejection letter after applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

One bright spot in Billi’s life is her communication by phone camera with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who lives in Changchun, China.

Billi is upset when her parents, Haiyan and Jian (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin, respectively), tell her that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with cancer.

Billi’s parents plan to travel to Changchun to attend the wedding of Billi’s cousin, Hao Hao (Chen Han) and to see Nai Nai, the grandmother, maybe for the last time. The parents and the rest of the family choose not to tell Nai Nai that she has cancer and instead to visit her under the pretext of attending the wedding.

The parents decide to not even allow the doctor tell the grandmother that she has cancer. They reason that they want Nai Nai to enjoy the wedding and her remaining days.

The parents don’t want Billi to go with them to Changchun because they feel their daugher will become too emotional and won’t be able to keep Nai Nai’s illness a secret.

Billi travels to Changchun anyway.

The film has many tension-filled scenes between Awkwafina and her family, as well as many humorous scenes. The scenes between Awkwafina and her grandmother, Nai Nai, are lovely. There are funny dinner-table scenes. There’s an outrageously comedic scene when the family visits the grave of Nai-Nai’s husband. The wedding ceremony and reception scenes are hilarious.

The film is based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s experieneces with her own family. The grandmother, Nai, Nai, is not expected to live to attend the wedding. The family goes ahead with the wedding, hoping grandmother will be able to attend.

Call it one wedding and no funeral.

The prospects are such that, even if the grandmother attends the wedding, she won’t live too much longer after its conclusion.

“The Farewell” is a charming film that will delight many movie-goers. It’s the proverbial “I laughed one minute and I cried the next minute” movie.

Mostly, though, you’ll delight in an unassuming film that is written and directed with a deep sense of respect and beauty by Lulu Wang (“Posthunous,” 2014). Wang is unafraid to let the camera linger in the silent stillness of a scene.

Fortunately, Wang has some great actors who can fill the screen with emotional resonance, especially Awkwafina (born Nora Lum. New York City; “Crazy Rich Asians,” 2018; “Ocean’s Eight,” 2018). Awkwafina, known for comedic and martial arts roles and as a hip-hop recording artist, is a revelation as Bilii. With hunched-over shoulders, a look of utter resignation on her face and a resevoir of sadness in her eyes, she creates a forelorn character memorable long after the film is over.

The supporting cast is solid, including Tzi Ma (Haiyan, Billi’s father), Diana Lin (Jian, Billi’s mother); Zhao Shuzhen (Nai Nai, Billi’s grandmother); Chen Han (Hao Hao, the groom); Aoi Mizuhara (Aiko, Hao Hao’s finacee); Jiang Yongbo (Haibin, Haiyan’s older brother), and Lu Hong (Nai Nai’s younger sister).

Look for an Oscar actress nomination for Awkwafina, an Oscar supporting actress nomination for Zhao Shuzhen, and an Oscar original screenplay and director nomination for Lulu Wang.

“The Farewell” is an introduction to a world with which you may not be that familiar with, but, in the end, may not be that unfamilar from your own. Don’t miss it.

“The Farewell,” PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for thematic material, brief language and some smoking; Genre; Comedy, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 40 min. Distributed by A24. The film is in Chinese, with subtitles, and English.

Credit Readers Anonymous: A brief scene of the real woman on whom Nai Nai the grandmother is based is shown during “The Farewell” credits. To reveal more would be a spoiler.

Box Office, Aug. 23-25: “Angel Has Fallen” opened at No. 1, with $21.2, chasing “Good Boys” from No. 1, dropping one place to No. 2, with $11.7 million, $42 million, two weeks, keeping “Overcomer” opening at No. 3, with only $8.2 million. 4. “The Lion King” dropped one place, $8.1 million, $510.6 million, six weeks. 5. “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” dropped three places, $8.1 million, $147.7 million, four weeks. 6. “Ready or Not,” $7.5 million, $10.5 million since opening Aug. 21. 7. “The Angry Birds Movie 2” dropped three places, $6.3 million, $27 million. 8. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” dropped three places, $6 million, $50.4 million, three weeks. 9. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” dropped three places, $5.2 million, $43 million, three weeks. 10. “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” dropped two places, $5 million, $123.1 million, five weeks. 18. “The Farewell” dropped three places $944,482; $14.4 million.

Unreel, Aug. 30:

“Don’t Let Go,” R: Jacob Estes directs Byron Mann, Storm Reid, David Oyelowo and Mykelti Williamson in the Horror film. A man’s niece turns up after she’s believed dead in the murder of her family.

“Before You Know It,” Hannah Pearl Utt directs Linda Arroz, Alec Baldwin, Ben Becher and Blake Berris in the Comedy. Two sisters discover that their mother, who they thought is dead, is starring on a TV soap opera.

“Bennett’s War,” PG-13: Alex Ranarivelo directs Michael Roark, Trace Adkins, Ali Afshar and Allison Paige in the Sports film. An Army veteran who sustains a broken back and leg in an IED explosion that should have killed him during overseas combat becomes a motocross racer.

“Killerman,” R: Malik Bader directs Liam Hemsworth, Emory Cohen, Diane Guerrero and Zlatko Buric in the Crime Drama. A New York City criminal awakens with no memory and millions.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY A24From left, Jiang Yongbo, Aoi Mizuhara, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Xiang, Lu Hong and Zhao Shuzhen, ”The Farewell.”