Last year Nora "Awkwafina" Lum was the side-kick character in "Crazy Rich Asians." This year, though, she takes center stage in "The Farewell."
Lum stars as Billi in "The Farewell," a young professional trying to make her way in the world in New York City. The movie picks up with Billi visiting her parents for a seemingly routine dinner. However, she soon learns bad news, as her parents inform her that her grandmother, referred to as Nai Nai, has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Instead of informing Nai Nai about her illness, though, the family, citing tradition, decide to hide the news from Nai Nai and keep the diagnosis a secret. Billi finds the process ridiculous, but her family explain it's their responsibility to take the burden of knowing about the illness and leaving Nai Nai (played by Shuzhen Zhou) in a sort of blissful ignorance. Because the family wants to spend time with the grandmother, they decide to hold a wedding in China earlier than initially planned.
The drama in "The Farewell" is spawned by the east and west culture clash between different parts of the family. Billi, who grew up in the United States, finds the idea of keeping Nai Nai's diagnoses to be wrong, yet many of her relatives who live in China see it as a necessary evil to keep Nai Nai happy.
The result is a very honest, slice-of-life portrayal of family dynamics, especially under pressure. Family get-togethers can already provide people with stress, add in a potential tragedy and keeping something secret and it creates a pot that could boil over.
It's this "boiling pot" that gives "The Farewell" its intrigue and emotional weight, whether it be through arguments or family members just trying to subtly say goodbye without letting the secret out.
It's a touching film full of relatable moments which can draw an audience in quite well. Unfortunately, though, the movie runs into some issue. The pacing, for example, is a bit too slow and the second and third acts aren't structured as well as one would hope.
Another issue is the movie lacks the emotional "gut punch" that one wants from a drama such as this. The movie reaches points in the third act where an audience expects a sort of crescendo and it doesn't really arrive.
However, the movie is still immensely watchable from start to finish thanks to a couple great performances. First and foremost, Lum deserves a ton of credit for giving a great dramatic performance while still maintaining the comedic charm she's been known for in previous pictures.
Her ability to balance the true-to-life humor and the depressing topic constantly lingering between her character and others was phenomenal and hopefully she pursues more of these roles in the future.
Maybe stealing the show, though, is Zhou, who does incredible work despite this being her only starring role. Zhou comes into every moment and often has some of the most screen presence with a very honest and convincing performance.
"The Farewell" has a few hiccups when it comes to its story development but the performances and drama portrayed give it plenty of life to create a solid picture. 3.85 out of 5.