MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
What’s summer without a new family rom-com centered around a wedding? Last August’s surprise hit was Crazy Rich Asians, a cross-cultural fable about Rachel, a young Chinese-American woman who travels to Singapore to attend the wedding of her boyfriend’s brother. One of that movie’s highlights was a supporting performance by Awkwafina (a.k.a. Nora Lum) as Rachel’s best friend from college, also living in Singapore. That film featured an all-Asian cast.
Now, just a year later, we have another film about a wedding, this time featuring Awkwafina in the leading role of Billi, a young Chinese-American woman (and aspiring writer) living with her family in New York. She emigrated with her family to America as a young child but has fond memories of her “Nai Nai” (Zhao Shuzhen), even though the family hasn’t been back to their hometown of Changchun in over ten years.
Things are about to change. The family is traveling back to China for the wedding of Billi’s cousin Hao Hao (Han Chen) and his Japanese girlfriend Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). The wedding celebration is real, but the larger purpose for the trip is to spend precious time with Nai Nai, who has inoperable cancer. The family is keeping this prognosis a secret from the grandmother so that she may be spared this grief (with the cooperation of some of the doctors). Billi is shocked to hear of this deception, but is told that it is common in Chinese culture.
There are no romantic complications in The Farewell (other than the bride’s total inability to understand Mandarin); the film simply observes a family’s efforts to renew the ties that bind across different cultures in the midst of the conflicted emotional landscapes of marriage and mortality. The themes are universal and relevant. Funerals and weddings often arrive back-to-back. Dealing with life-threatening illness in the midst of a celebration of joy creates real tension, but joy often carries the day.
The Farewell is primarily in Mandarin, but Wang considers it an American story, since the central characters are living in the United States. She should know, since it’s based on her own family story that was first heard on the radio show This American Life, (Episode 585 “In Defense of Ignorance”, recently rebroadcast). The film reminds us that we are a country of different cultures and various languages, but we share the universal poetry of the heart. You may want to give your parents or grandmother a phone call or video chat after watching this movie.
The acting is first-rate, with a luminous and delightful performance by Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai and a heartfelt and expressive turn from Awkwafina. The movie is not only a joy-filled experience, but refreshingly family-friendly. I hope that more people discover The Farewell and that we can expand our worldview to celebrate the diversity that not only is essential to America but also to the Kingdom of God.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A beautiful film about the love of family, spanning generations and cultures.
One pitchfork: Some drinking to excess during a wedding celebration; loving deception; one curse word.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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