The Farewell ★★★

"Life is not about what you do, but about how you do it."

I liked this, but I really, really, reeeeeeeally wanted to like it more. The details are there. The rituals at the cemetery. The culture clash of placing family over the individual, the collective unit bearing the emotional weight for Nai Nai. The birds sneaking in through the windows. The most horrifically awkward wedding couple who are clearly not ready to get married. Awkwafina and Nai Nai doing her little routine to clear the toxins. It's lovely! Duh! Awkwafina is absolutely amazing, reactive, mournful ... you can see it all in the various emotions when they're taking a photo, from smiling to dread that Nai Nai will get her test results back to forced smiling. She's got it.

Unfortunately, I don't think Awkwafina is given enough here, always a bit hunched, wearing the sadness so directly, stuck in one mode. Her performance is symbolic of my larger issue with the movie: it's a bit one note, static, repetitive and feels all first act. The tension of "should they tell her" leads to the scene with Uncle, but it feels like it persists that way until the end, never coming to any greater understanding or reflection on saying goodbye. The scene between her and her mom on the sadness of never seeing her Grandpa again, the childhood homes razed by Chinese economic expansion, sets the table for a larger piece about losing both people but places. But I think the movie leaves a lot on the table unmined. I'm sure it all happened to Lulu Wang, but I think it needed a bit more for a movie.

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