Thursday, August 1, 2019

Saying 'Farewell' comes with some valuable family complications, lessons

Is there a more endearing individual in any international culture than a grandmother? I mean, just think about it: Have you ever heard or seen any grand kid anywhere, at any time say anything bad or unkind about his or her grandma?

Zhau and Awkwafina share a traditional meal. You might need the Kleenex.
That's the spirit defined in "The Farewell," a wee little film from  Lulu Wang, whose sophomore feature effort (after "Posthumous") has drawn raves since its premiere at Sundance last January. Honestly, most are deserved, if a bit overstated about the writer/director, who seems fascinated by death, particularly the difficulties of dealing with it.

In Wang's latest, it's an especially feisty "Nai Nai," which apparently translates to Nana in English, who becomes the focus of the piece. Trouble is, her assembled family, which includes an oldest son and his brood from Japan and a youngest (the familiar face of Tzi Ma) with his wife (Diana Lin) and daughter from New York, is trying hard not to let Nai Nai (wonderfully captured by an actress named Shuzhen Zhao) in on the attentiveness.

You see, they know she's dying -- a doctor claims she only has a few months left -- but the old gal remains in the dark because the clan has plotted collectively to keep various test results from her.

Other than a cough, there's no indication that Nai Nai is even sick, and Americanized granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina, fine again after her scene-stealing in last year's "Crazy Rich Asians") thinks her relatives should be committed for such culturally inspired lying.

Regardless, Nai Nai is led to believe that everyone has returned to China for the wedding of her clueless grandson and his confused but lovely Japanese fiancee. So, naturally, the take-charge matriarch, an ex-soldier who often refers to offspring as "stupid child," eagerly becomes the boss behind the resulting celebration.

Not surprisingly, it's a joyously odd affair that surely will remind some of 1993's "The Wedding Banquet," and nicely serves to fill in the blanks among tender moments, a few playful ones, and the universal recognition of love, people and events no matter where you come from or what language you speak.

Rated "PG": thematic material, brief language and some smoking; 1:38; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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