The Farewell – 5 stars
A touching and heartfelt tribute to a matriarch. Smart, deep and without an ounce of treacle, this is the holiday movie you should watch instead of the grotesque Love, Actually. Upon hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis for her Nai Nai (grandmother), Billi (Awkwafina), who left China when she was seven, returns from New York with her family (along with other family members from abroad) to say their goodbyes. The twist is that, per custom, no one can reveal the diagnosis so as not to upset Nai Nai in her final months. Indeed, Billi, a struggling student who has just been rejected for a fellowship, was specifically asked not to make the trip because her parents thought she was too emotional and incapable of adhering to the compact.
What follows is a loving and funny rendering of Billi’s family as well as her own immersion into Chinese culture and the clash that comes with it. First time writer-director Lulu Wang’s second feature is confident and multi-layered, and her visual sense, depicting China in an almost dreamlike state, emphasizes Billi’s trepidation and confusion. The film is also slyly funny, capturing the idiosyncratic bond of family that survives no matter the time apart or the geographical separation. One of the best of the year.