When telling people where I’m from, the typical question I get is, “Colorado? Why the fuck did you leave?” followed up by, “do you go back often?” My response actually sums me up well as a person, meaning it’s sensible, dark, and a tiny bit funny, “only for weddings, babies, and funerals” I say. And I wonder why I make friends slowly, I guess I’m an acquired taste.
As someone who has chosen to live away from my family, friends, and community, I have to deal with the weight of guilt on a daily basis. How do I maintain these connections while thousands of miles away? And as I miss birthdays, doctor appointments, and house warming parties the weight gets heavier.
The Farewell is a movie made for people like me, or really, for anyone who has dealt with the sudden news of the impending loss of a loved one. But it specifically hits home for those of us who are thousands of miles away from our homes. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of our choices as well as showcase of the beauty of our bravery.
The Farewell directed and written by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, follows a family of Chinese immigrants as they deal with the heart wrenching news that the beloved matriarch of the family, Nai Nai (grandmother), is at death’s door and only has a short time to live. The family decides to NOT disclose this information to Nai Nai herself, instead choosing to carry the emotional burden quietly amongst themselves.
Dealing with the news of an impending death is maddening enough. What exactly do you say to someone who is dying? Do you keep it light and discuss the weather or the news or other meaningless trivialities? Do you ask for stories of their past or ask them for wisdom as a dark reminder that the end is coming? Neither seem like an enjoyable path but neither does a loss without warning with no time for these conversations. For every person who has lost someone suddenly and wishes they had just a little more time to enjoy their company, there is someone who has been blessed with that time and has no idea how to handle the awkward blessing.
It’s even trickier for Billi, an aspiring writer living in New York perfectly portrayed by Awkwafina, who has to keep the family secret of her grandmother’s impending doom while visiting her under the false pretense of a fake wedding (so Nai Nai doesn’t get suspicious). Billi loves her Nai Nai dearly and desperately wants to tell her the truth and cry in her arms. But her family, and the cultural expectations surrounding it, will not allow even a single tear. The film follows Billi as she traverses through the societal differences between the culture she was born into and the culture she was raised as well as the guilt of living so far away.
The heart of this movie lies in the realism. Pay attention to the scenes of the family around the dinner table eating an endless amount of food, there’s a lot of them, and they serve the purpose of creating the familiar. Sure this is a Chinese family but the conversations they have around the table are recognizable for any culture. There is gossip, there is the constant pressure to “eat, eat, eat” from the matriarch, there is childhood stories told, as well as pointed, guilt-inducing, remarks made by elders.
It’s a heart wrenching reminder for those of us who have left of what we leave behind and of the moments we miss while apart. If this is you, the scenes of reunion around the dinner table or walking around the city with a random relative or watching your cousin get married will spark a grueling familiarity. It’ll throw you back to those times when you are forced to step back into your past life. The battle of dread and secret joy that is waged internally, followed by reminders of why you left and why you come back.
The Farewell, for those who have chosen a path away from their families, is a gut punch of guilt, laughter, and the familiar. It’s everything you hate and everything you love about going home to visit those you have abandoned physically but will never abandon emotionally. It’s pure poetry that will drive you to both immediately call your loved ones and refocus your reasons for leaving.