The Reel Review
Fresh from her breakout comic role in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, rapper, comedian, and now actress Awkwafina takes an unexpected, serious turn in this drama about an Asian-American family that returns to China to visit the family matriarch, who’s NOT been told she has terminal lung cancer. Writer/director Lulu Wang’s story is based on a real life lie her family perpetuated with her own grandmother.
The charming story is loaded with fun, unique elements of Chinese culture, interesting comparisons of how death is dealt with in the East versus the West, and is a heartfelt ode to those precious memories we each hold dear from our past. Its earnestness helps overcome a few sluggish spots and some amateurish scenes (Awkwafina playing the piano) in the second act.
Raspy-voiced Awkwafina, however, proves she is more than capable of carrying a movie – her raw emotion, along with a strong supporting cast (Shuzhen Zhao in particular, as lovable grandma Nai Nai) – makes this thought-provoking tearjerker relatable to anyone whom has experienced the death of a loved one. And perhaps most refreshingly, it does so authentically, without the more clichéd, emotionally-manipulative schmaltz typically found in such films.
• Writer/director Lulu Wang, her family and the film’s cast even lied about the plot of The Farewell to Wang’s own grandmother during filming, thinking she would likely die before the movie was completed. That did not happen and grandma still hasn’t a clue.
• Awkwafina, aka Nora Lum, was raised by her paternal grandmother after her mother died when Nora was only four years old.
• Lulu Wang, who’s in a relationship with Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), also plays piano on the film’s soundtrack.