Lulu Wang’s first major film, “The Farewell”, which she both wrote and directed, should be a tutorial for American film makers. Sure, we have our rare Damien Chazelle folks (rent “First Man”, for instance, which definitely didn’t get enough box office love), but if you want truly poignant pensive artistic moments on film, these days you need to see foreign films like Ms. Wang’s.
But first, promise me you won’t look into the film’s subject matter or talk to blabber mouths who have seen it, as there are two major plot point spoilers that are much more impactful as surprises.
Without spilling the aforementioned, I do want to mention my favorite moments, the first of which has to do with another reason I like foreign films: barring meeting a man of whom I have confidence in planning over seas travel, I’m probably never visiting China or Japan. Thus, going to a film like The Farewell (or the incredible Oscar nominated “Shoplifters”) is my way of vicarious world travel. To that end, “The Farewell” fascinated me by the cemetery ritual as the family goes to the patriarch’s grave seeking the deceased’s blessing for an engaged couple. The simultaneous, but out of sync, reverential bowing of the family was pure cinematic craft.
For a second ‘moment’, I’ll cheat with a montage of clips of ingenious beauty: 1. staring out her hotel window pre slumber, the granddaughter (played by the rapper/comedian Akwafina who is so good, I didn’t remember that she wasn’t just an actress while watching) watches cigarette smoke gather and dissipate, 2. the close ups on the groom’s face as he goes from understated nervousness to inebriation to room spins to grief, 3. the pink conference room decorated in balloons as the family searches for the bride to be’s earring as she gets a facial, and 4. the various shots of looming high rises in China.
Last, the instrumental and vocal music, both classical and modern, added to the rich evocative tone of the film. In fact, at the film’s finale, a Chinese version of “Without You”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_You_(Badfinger_song) could almost incite an ‘I’ll be your Bill Munson’ confession.
Is The Farewell perfect? No, but the only element keeping it from that were possibly one too many cliched moments at the wedding and a bit of a random piano playing segment that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. No matter, The Farewell is definitely worth seeing.