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The Farewell

A woman learns the power of grief and family in this gorgeous film
© A24 / A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.
     Billi (Awkwafina) is close to her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao). From Nai Nai’s home in China, they talk by phone and share a special teasing bond. 
     Nai Nai’s diagnosis with stage 4 cancer devastates Billi. Her sorrow gives way to confusion when her parents tell her that, following Chinese tradition, Nai Nai will never know her own diagnosis. In China, the fear of death is thought to hasten it. 
      Billi is further distressed to learn that the family has invented an excuse for them to meet one last time. A cousin has proposed to his girlfriend so the family can pretend the occasion for reunion is a wedding in Nai Nai’s hometown.
     As she prepares to lose her Nai Nai, Billi deals with clashes of culture, family turmoil and death. Is this secret too much to bear?
     The Farewell is a beautiful, heartfelt and nuanced look at how culture and family shape us all. The film is based on a real lie that writer/director Lulu Wang (Posthumous) was forced to tell her own Nai Nai. Wang treats with affection each character and familial quirk Billi discovers. Humor balances the subject’s inescapable melancholy. 
     Wang also gives us a sensitive and insightful tour of China’s sights — including urban sprawl — and traditions. We see the customs surrounding both mourning and weddings, and how honor and obligation motivate everyone in the family. Panavision lenses and wide shots fill every scene with gorgeous details. 
     Actresses Awkwafina and Zhao give astounding performances. In the bombastic comedian Awkwafina’s dramatic debut, she knocks it out of the park. Her Billi is a woman of two worlds. Taken from China to America at the age of six, she feels fully at home in neither country. The only surety in her life, her Nai Nai, is leaving her. 
     Zhao is a firecracker of a woman, unafraid to haggle over crab vs. lobster at a wedding banquet, check the marital status of her doctor (just in case Billi wants a boyfriend) and instruct the betrothed couple how to pose for wedding photos. She does her meditation exercises every morning, shouting and pushing her hands in the air. Throughout, she refuses to let her family coddle her. You can see why Billi is so devoted, and how her loss will shatter the family. 
    This lovely, personal film should be a crowd-pleaser. If you’ve ever dealt with the death of a loved one, or felt yourself adrift in life, The Farewell will speak to you. 
Great Dramedy • PG • 98 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Fast & Furious Present: Hobbs & Shaw
     Diplomatic Security Serviceman Hobbs’ (Dwayne Johnson) special animosity for outlaw Dekkard Shaw (Jason Statham) is returned. The men love nothing more than taunting and beating each other. Their shared animosity drives both. 
     But when a genetically enhanced former soldier (Idris Elba) shows up, Hobbs and Shaw have to combine forces to save the world.
     Like most entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, Hobbs & Shaw isn’t really about the plot. Scripts are invariably terrible. These movies are about cool cars, slick action and charismatic stars. Fans of The Rock, Jason Statham and Idris Elba will see all of them shirtless and oiled up in this movie. If you’re hoping for a cogent story or developed character, you probably haven’t seen a Fast & Furious movie before. Don’t start now. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 135 mins.