Suppose your grandmother was dying. Do you give her the bad news? Or do you hold a surreptitious family reunion where everyone can say farewell to Nai Nai without the old woman realizing that her end is near?
A good idea? Some say yes; some say no.
Even Lulu Wang, the writer-director of “The Farewell,” seems somewhat ambivalent.
This dramedy was based on Wang’s own grandmother’s illness.
Born in Beijing, Wang moved with her parents to Miami when she was six years old. When she graduated from Boston College in 2005, she headed to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker. She made her first feature film (“Posthumous”) in 2008. “The Farewell” is her second.
Premiering at Sundance, a survey of critics voted it as Best Film and Best Screenplay. And Wang was voted Best Director.
The film holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The Farewell” is still showing at Tropic Cinema.
An Asian cast to rival “Crazy Rich Asians,” Lulu Wang chose Awkwafina (one of the stand-out stars of “Crazy Rich Asians”) as her stand-in for this story.
A Chinese-American writer named Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her beloved Nai Nai (Mandarin for paternal grandmother) is dying of lung cancer. The family decides to withhold the diagnosis from the old woman (Zhao Shuzhen). Instead, a wedding is planned for Billi’s cousin as an excuse to call the family together.
Not trusting Billi to keep the secret, her parents tell her to stay in New York. But we know that’s not going to happen.
Billi flies to Changchun, where she clashes with her family over their decision to withhold the truth from Nai Nai.
Finally, Billi’s uncle (Jiang Yongbo) explains to her that this represents a difference between Eastern and Western cultures – that the lie allows the family to bear the emotional burden of the diagnosis, rather than leaving that to Nai Nai herself. Collectivism versus individualism.
“I always felt the divide in my relationship to my family versus my relationship to my classmates and to my colleagues and to the world that I inhabit,” Lulu Wang says. “That’s just the nature of being an immigrant and straddling two cultures.”
So does she have Billi spill the beans? Or live up to her cultural imperative?
Watch the movie to find out.
As for Lulu Wang’s own grandmother, the film ends with footage of the old woman and a notation that tells us: “Six years after her diagnosis, Nai Nai is still with us.”
Way to go, Nai Nai.
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