The Farewell is a haunting and personal story from Writer \ Director Lulu Wang. I’m sorry that I didn’t immediately come home and write a review but maybe I was hoping that our guests H & A would take me up on the offer of an Official L & D t-shirt for writing a guest review. Also, I was busy editing my own film. Then I was busy alternately vegging out and processing The Farewell.
I don’t know how many of you have been in the situation, I have, where a loved one is dying and your family is telling you not to say anything to the dying person. Or perhaps you found yourself on the other side of that equation and your counsel was to keep the truth from the dying person and to instruct everyone, out of an old world sense of sympathy and responsibility, to not say a word. Maybe it’s even decorum. Maybe the person knows very well what is happening but they want to pretend not to know, so you can pretend not to know. So you can all hang out at the hospital room and speak nostalgically about the past and about a future that will never be. That’s not exactly what happens in The Farewell but it’s an example of how this type of situation can go down.
In The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, who I have already gushed over in this blog, flys to China from NYC to say goodbye to her dying Grandmother —though she is not allowed to say goodbye. Her entire family is visiting China under the guise of being there for a wedding. A wedding that’s a ruse. And this plot device works absolutely well as a point of comedic pain.
Ok, I’m going to gush a little. Awkwafina, who has the gait and delivery and comedic timing of Larry David, here eschews the easy Queens cranky laughs for a truly profound performance. One of my favorite radio shows is called De Película, it’s a two hour movie review and interview show on RNE, aka Radio Nacional de España aka the NPR of Spain. This show, whose title is a double entendre for “about movies” or more often an exclamation of disbelief that an event occurred, literally “Like a movie!” The show has been around for many years and they host a film fest too. Last week they were interviewing the judges, esteemed technicians and above-the-line players in Spanish Cinema. They all pretty much said the same thing. They weren’t concerned with a films’ technical achievement or in considering how well their own specialty was executed. They cared about if the film had soul. A heart. And that’s not something that can simply be conjured by mixing certain elements. There is still a magic to movies, even in this digi-tech age, success is pure alchemy. As a creator, to give a film a soul? …Well, you can at least create the conditions (to steal a little from Meisner) for something like that to occur in a narrative film but the movie has to create a soul for itself. Then one of the radio show interviewees said that a particular performance had transcended the screen. And that gave me chills because I felt that with Awkwafina in this film. It’s still the greatest magical power of this art form. The ability for actors and at times scenes or more rarely for entire films to transcend the medium. End of gush.
Another thing. The Farewell is funny. In the middle of the poignancy, there’s always a nod to absurd behaviors, situations and the wacky things people do and say. I would watch it again but it’s out of the theater. You should catch it when it’s streaming. I can’t recommend it enough.
One actor in the film, Tzi Ma, seemed familiar to me. I was asked to be the cinematographer for 5 days of principal photography on a controversial film called #1 Serial Killer (not its original title and I’ll leave it at that). This film starred the insanely talented Jason Tobin and was directed by Stanley Yung, a fellow Bruin who I have a lot of admiration for. As the title hints, there was a lot of fake blood and somehow I ended up filming most if not all of the deaths in this slasher film over the course of a few evenings. Tzi Ma, who plays a mean boss, is one target for the ire of the killer. Overall it was a great experience for me as a cinematographer and I went on to shoot other pieces for this active Asian-American coterie in Los Angeles. There’s not a lot of representation for Latinos in Hollywood so I appreciated that the Asian community there took me under its wing. I do sometimes miss being part of all that insanity. On the other hand I can confidently say that I am the only person in Appleton, Wisconsin who goes to the movies and actually knows the people in the credits on a fairly regular basis! (Note: It has been brought to my attention by someone other than Frank, that my friend Frank L. Anderson, a constant L & D reader no less, would give me a run for my money in this category. I see you Frank!). I think D gets a kick out of that. In any case, yeah, #1 Serial Killer is not the height of cinema, but I believe The Farewell truly is. I hope the Academy has its eyes open and Awkwafina can take home some well deserved hardware.