Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Farewell (2019)

Image is property of A24

The Farewell  – Film Review

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Director: Lulu Wang

Synopsis: After receiving the heart-breaking news that her grandmother has terminal cancer, a young woman flies over to China to be with her beloved grandmother and her family. However, to ease her pain, her relatives have vowed to not inform their matriarch of her fatal diagnosis….

Review: There’s something special and unique about the bonds that we share with the people that we call family. Whether they live just a few blocks away, or maybe across an ocean, the bonds that family members form can be unbreakable and resolute. Within the first few minutes of this semi-biographical film from Lulu Wang, she establishes one such connection between a woman and her dearly beloved Grandma (or Nai Nai as she’s affectionately known). Instantly, from the first few minutes, we are reminded of the power that this institution can have over our lives.

The centrepiece of this heartfelt drama is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in New York City. When Billi learns of her Grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, an impromptu celebration is organised so that everyone can bid their matriarch farewell. The only thing is, due to cultural traditions, everyone is under extremely strict instructions not to disclose anything relating to her diagnosis so as to ease her suffering, and let her enjoy her final few weeks of life. Having grown up outside of this cultural tradition, this approach does not sit well with Billi. As the gathering gets started, the entire time, Billi finds herself immensely conflicted.

Having made her name with, and nearly stolen the entire show in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina gives a heart-wrenching, powerful performance. It’s a very different role when compared to her one in Crazy Rich Asians, but one that she pulls off magnificently. Right throughout the film, there are moments where you can just see this conflict eating away at her, and at numerous times, she seems like she might crack. However despite her intense frustrations, at the urging of her other relatives, she strives to hold firm and maintain the pretence. Though other relatives have their moments with her, the spotlight is firmly on Nai Nai’s relationship with Billi, which is built on nothing but unequivocal love and respect for one another.

For a film that features a family saying goodbye to a dearly beloved relative, it would seem unlikely to have comedy woven throughout the story. However, Lulu Wang’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy and drama, and the results are entertaining and poignant. This balancing act mainly comes down to the wonderful performance of Nai Nai (Shuzhen). While everyone around her is fighting so hard, repressing their sadness, this lady remains blissfully unaware of everything and living her life without a care in the world. In a world where humanity can become cocooned by our own cultures and ways of life, it’s always fascinating to see another culture be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, irrespective of their own culture, any audience member can appreciate, and be moved by, the traditions of the culture on screen.

The importance of family, and everything that this institution can teach us all as human beings has been depicted in movies before. Therefore, it is to this film’s immense credit that it manages to provide a refreshing take on this important theme and message, with a story that will almost certainly tug on those heartstrings. What’s more, for those that are blessed to still have their grandparents with them, it ought to make them want to reach out and ensure that they take heed to any pearl of wisdom that their grandparents can impart, and to cherish every second of time that you’re able to spend with them.

Poignant and comedic, anchored by a powerful performance from Awkwafina, The Farewell is an emotional family drama that will touch the hearts and minds of any audience member, regardless of culture or creed.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures and Color Force

Crazy Rich Asians – Film Review

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: When an American woman is invited by her boyfriend to visit his family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Upon arrival, she soon realises that his family are insanely rich…

Review: Like almost any genre, the romantic comedy one is one that can provide audiences with films that tend to retread familiar tropes and don’t seek to bring something new to the market. Therefore when something does manage to be a delight breath of fresh air into the genre, it is undeniably wonderful to see. In recent years, two such films have met that criteria, namely last year’s The Big Sick and now, Crazy Rich Asians, have proved themselves to be massive hits that also break significant ground, the latter of which especially so since it is the first big budget Hollywood production to feature an all Asian cast in a quarter of a century.

At the centre of this romance is Rachel Chu (Wu) who is an Economics Professor at New York University. She has dated her boyfriend and fellow NYU Professor Nick Young (Golding) for around a year. Things get interesting for her when he invites her to Singapore to visit his family, ahead of the wedding of his best friend.  What Rachel doesn’t know, and soon begins to fully comprehend, is just how wealthy Nick’s family is. This starts to put a strain on their relationship, particularly when she meets his family and they seem to have their doubts about whether Rachel is the right match for him. It is a very familiar set up for a rom-com story, but the with their extravagant wealth that they possess, it puts the genre in some uncharted territory.

As the main couple in this story, Constance Wu and Henry Golding both excel as Rachel and Nick respectively. There is genuine chemistry between the two and perhaps the most key ingredient of any rom-com is you want these two to make it work. However, of course, that isn’t going to be easy as Nick’s uber rich family pose a few problems, in that Nick’s mother especially (an equally excellent Michelle Yeoh) does not view Rachel as being wholly suitable to become a part of their family. Given how one member just casually splashes around a million dollars on a pair of earrings like it’s mere loose change, which to them, it probably is.

There are a lot of characters at play here, but there are some notably memorable turns from Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend at college, Goh Peik Lin and Ken Jeong as her wacky but extremely entertaining father. With such a large cast though there is always a risk that some cast members are under-utilised, and Gemma Chan’s Astrid, sister to Nick, is one such character who could have done with a lot more screen time as there is a plot with her own family life that could have benefited from being fleshed out a bit more. Nevertheless the screenplay adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to weave the family drama and the romance together tremendously well.

Where this film really shines is its visual splendour. The costumes on display here are very bright and colourful, and they perfectly illustrate the remarkable wealth that these people possess. The excellent production design also helps to really hit that point home, particularly when we get to the rather lavish wedding ceremony, one that would certainly give any member of any royal family around the world a run for their money. This is a very different film for director Jon M Chu, and while there are certain familiarities with rom coms of the past, he gives the movie a fresh vibe to it. It is somewhat surprising how it has been so long for a major Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast, but with the success this film has had, more studios will hopefully soon follow suit.

Boasting some extremely resplendent production design, coupled with an extremely heart-warming tale that manages to breathe new life into the rom-com genre, whilst also being a landmark achievement for representation in Hollywood.