Sarah Callen

A thoughtful film about grief, culture, and lies.

The Farewell movie poster

I had seen previews for The Farewell for a couple of weeks and, while I thought it would be a well done and artistic film, I didn’t really think I would see it. Rarely do I think, upon seeing a preview, I need to see that on the big screen! But then Jen texted me, shared how this wasn’t what she expected and I knew I had to see it. And, honestly, I’m so glad I did.

There are some films that need to be experienced in an immersive theater experience and this is one of them. The score is phenomenal and the characters three-dimensional. The writing managed to be an exquisite balance of humor and seriousness, showing the beauty and joy of family even in the midst of grief and disagreements.

One of the things I loved most about this film is that it was too Chinese to be American and too American for a Chinese audience. When Lulu Wang was shopping this film around, this was the main critique of the studios and this is one of the things that makes this film so unique. What better way to show the experience of a young woman trapped between two cultures than through a film that can’t be cleanly put into either category?

I think I was most struck by the emphasis The Farewell placed on emotion which is not something that either culture broadly celebrates. The film centers on Billi and her family as they process through grief and heartbreak, life events rarely shown on the big screen. Topics such as honesty, emotional intelligence, and deferring to another are not often celebrated, revered, or discussed, but this film dared to go there.

The premise for this film was so far outside of anything I would’ve thought to come up with and was an exquisite look into the world of another. And the fact that this was based on a true story made it all the more fascinating. Lulu Wang and the entire team behind this film were thoughtful and honest, unafraid to shy away from difficult topics. They found a beautiful way of bringing us into the story, the family’s decision (for better or worse), and left us to decide how we felt about it.

The Farewell is quiet, contemplative, and was the breath of fresh air that I needed after what seemed to be a non-stop summer of action and superhero films. I’m so happy that this film exists and I can’t wait to see what comes next from Lulu Wang and other directors and writers courageous enough to tell their stories.

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