The Farewell (2019) by Lulu Wang

While a beautifully shot and performed film, The Farewell holds many moments that are staged to be meaningful but land up feeling stylistically incoherent.

The Farewell tells the story of a Chinese family whose matriarch is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. The family, following a Chinese saying, decides to not tell her and instead stage a fake wedding so that everyone has an excuse to meet her. Billi, the Chinese American granddaughter struggles to come to terms with this decision. The story follows the internal and external turmoil this dramatic situation presents. Through the story, we also compare and contrast Chinese traditionalism and American individualism. No doubt, the film serves as a great insight into Chinese culture and ideology.

With that said, while watching the film, there are scenes that feel stylistically incoherent. For instance, there is one moment where the film has a slow-mo walkout scene. While I understand what it represents, it feels completely out of place in a film that is otherwise very grounded and realistic in its depiction of life. There is also a scene where the protagonist runs through the streets and the camera follows along in one continuous take. This reminds me of the long take from Shame by Steve McQueen. The two are meant to represent different emotions but bring the same sense of grounded intensity. But while Shame has a consistent tone, The Farewell tries to juggle the above mentioned slow-mo shot with this long realistic take. Thus leaving me, as a fairly typical viewer, slightly jarred.

The film also fails, in my opinion, to have a cathartic ending. I believe it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to provide at least a rewarding ending to the story. Even if it is not a happy ending but one that leaves us aching, nothing sucks more than an unfinished story or a story that ends abruptly.

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