The Farewell (PG)

Starring Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen

Directed by Lulu Wang

Awkwafina dials down her bleach-blonde loudmouth Goh Peik Lin persona in Crazy Rich Asians a few thousand notches for this Sundance Film Festival breakout. 

The rapper-turned-actress (her real name is Nora Lum) gives a wonderfully restrained and mellow performance as Billi, a Chinese-American writer embroiled in a deception to keep her cancer-stricken granny aka nai nai  (Zhao Shuzhen) in Changchun, China, from finding out about her terminal diagnosis. 

Billi’s family — including the terrific Tzi Ma (The Man in the High Castle) as her father — decide to reunite the clan by throwing a faux wedding for her cousin, so that everyone can say goodbye to nai nai in the most joyful way possible. Despite her initial objection, Billi gradually warms up to the idea of telling a little white lie. 

Writer-director Lulu Wang, who based the movie on her own experiences, has crafted a bittersweet family drama, free of histrionics and mawkishness. Except for a dinner scene where Billi’s parents and her Chinese relatives argue over whether they are Asians or Americans, The Farewell is a quiet meditation on grief and identity, a delicate mix of dry humour and subtle pathos, played out in a series of intimate, slice-of-life moments. 

Awkwafina, at the centre of the well-meaning dupery, is an arresting presence. Awkwafina, at the centre of the well-meaning dupery, is an arresting presence. She is a scene-stealer in Crazy Rich Asians. Here, she steals the entire movie. Believe it. (****)

For more on The Farewell, listen to our chat with Daniel Martin on CNA938’s Trending.

Photos: Shaw Organisation