Review: Say hello to comedic drama 'The Farewell'

Awkwafina stars in comedic drama that resonates across cultural barriers

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Awkwafina, center, in "The Farewell."

For a film that opens by proclaiming it's "based on an actual lie," there is an awful lot of truth in "The Farewell." 

This smart film deftly mixes comedy and tragedy, and manages to be heartfelt without being cloying or sentimental. Its cast achieves a believable and relatable family dynamic that likely mirrors your own, while the film tells a story that is specific in its machinations yet universal in its takeaways. 

"Crazy Rich Asians" scene-stealer Awkwafina stars as Billi, a New Yorker who learns her grandmother, whom she calls Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), only has a few months to live.

Nai Nai lives in China, and Billi's parents Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and Jian (Diana Lin) decide to keep Nai Nai in the dark over her diagnosis. Instead of telling her the truth, the family heads off to China for the wedding of one of Billi's cousins, Hao Hao (Chen Han), and plans to use the wedding as a way to say goodbye to Nai Nai without cluing her in about her sickness. 

It's a high-wire premise that writer-director Lulu Wang handles with confidence and poise, perhaps because the storyline is near and dear to her heart, and is largely based on a similar situation with her own grandmother. 

The ensemble cast does a commendable job with the rich material, which deals with the bubbles we live inside and the feelings of guilt and disconnection many immigrants feel from their families and their homelands. It is also rooted in the deep cultural differences between East and West, yet the rituals of food and family are recognizable to all. A final beat punctuates the film with an exclamation point, and shows that some lies are worth it in the end. 

'The Farewell'


Rated PG: for thematic material, brief language and some smoking

Running time: 98 minutes