Top Ten Movies of 2019 — Number Four

farewell title card

That Lulu Wang drew from a personal story to craft The Farewell inarguably adds to the aura around the film. What seems like high concept invention — a family conspiring to hit a terminal cancer diagnosis from a sweet, elderly member of the clan — instead carries the authority of wholly committed biography. But without skillful filmmaking and a willingness to dig deep into the emotions of the piece, The Farewell would be little more than a curiosity, as impactful as a clickbait news story about a happy coincidence unexpectedly linking two distant people. Wang likely knew she had a hook to ensnare audience attention, but the film demonstrates with greater certainty that she was aware of the imperative to push toward greater, wiser truths. The Farewell is about the orchestrations undertaken by a Chinese family spend time with their beloved Nai Nai (the marvelous Zhao Shuzhen) without tipping her off to the dire diagnosis she’d received, but it is about much more. It is about the many dynamics within a family and the challenge a young person faces in finding their footing when their aspirations are wracked by uncertainty. Awkwafina plays Billi, the young woman who feels distant from herself and who has the most misgivings about the family’s scheme, with an acute honesty. Wang gives the whole film a lovely, laudable tone, employing cultural immersion without hesitation, confident viewers will be able to keep up with a minimum of guiding exposition. Plain, pure, specific depictions of people moving through their lives are bound to resonate, regardless of the setting or language, but it still requires a confident filmmaker to commit to that premise. With The Farewell, Wang proves herself to be exactly that sort of creator, and her assurance results in a film that is moving and vibrant.

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