Show & Tell: The Farewell


It’s always interesting when a movie says that it’s “based on real events,” because movie buffs (like me) can do a little research and uncover the events, giving me a chance to criticize the movie on a whole new level. No matter how tangled the events, I can usually count on Hollywood to oversimplify the storyline and wrap things up with a reality-flavored bow.

But on Tuesday night, we’re going to be discussing The Farewell, which is the first movie I’ve ever seen that bills itself as “Based On a Real Lie.” The inventiveness of that tag line is a good sign, and the movie delivers on its promise.

The movie was heavily advertised during its theatrical release, so you probably know at least the outline of the plot. In a nutshell, a young Chinese-American woman learns that her Chinese grandmother is near death and that her entire extended family—in China and the U.S.—is staging a fake wedding as a pretext to go to China to be with the old lady. But, and here’s where the lie comes in, no one is telling the grandmother that she’s dying. Drama, laughs, and tears ensue.

I saw The Farewell during its run at the MallPlexx 73, and I’m pleased to report that the movie takes this premise and runs with it in ways you can’t anticipate, but also can’t resist. My usual misgivings about heartwarming movies are well known, but this one has enough tartness, enough humor, and enough wisdom to make it a definite winner.

One reason for the movie’s success is the performance of Awkwafina in the lead role of Billi, a thoroughly American girl who is both skeptical of the deception and depressed about losing her Nai Nai, which is Chinese for grandmother. Awkwafina, who made a huge splash as the Chinese party girl in Crazy Rich Asians, shows signs of real dramatic talent selling this part. (And Zhao Shuzhen, the actress playing Nai Nai, pretty much walks away with every scene she’s in.)

From now through the end of the year, movies will be a little thinner on the ground at The Music Hall, as rentals, live shows, and special events crank up for the holidays. But the quality is still high, and there’s not a better screen in the Seacoast area for watching a movie than The Historic Theater.

That’s where we’ll be discussing The Farewell on Tuesday night. I’ll see you at 7:00 and we’ll get all of our skeptical hearts warmed.

Paul Goodwin