...Pants on Fire
Lulu Wang is a liar! And she has the awards to prove it! Wang is the creator, writer, and director of the highly acclaimed but somehow Oscar snubbed film, The Farewell. And if there is any doubt about the veracity of the story line, right up front Wang states it is “Based on a true lie”. It couldn’t be more different. That’s the first of many reasons The Farewell should have received a nomination.
This is the real life story of Wang’s grandmother (Nai Nai) who was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer and has only a few months to live. The entire family is stricken with grief - everyone that is except Nai Nai, who doesn’t know – and they are determined not to tell her. Her two grown children and their families, now living in Japan and New York, return to China to say goodbye under the guise of arranging a wedding banquet for her grandson and his new bride.
(Note: This review contains spoilers)
Nai Nai’s granddaughter, Billi, easily recognizable as Wang, pays her own way and follows her parents after learning that she failed to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. Awkwafina earned a Golden Globe for best actress as Billi, erasing any early skepticism Wang originally had when casting this rapper/influencer.
The family’s restraint is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Nai Nai throws herself into orchestrating the tiniest details of the wedding banquet, taking a break only to practice tai chi with Billi. As the cater scurries to please Nai Nai with the best dumplings, her sister (Little Nai Nai) carries the heavy weight of the deception. Wang’s real life aunt, Hong Lu, plays herself in this role. Her good cheer throughout, Wang says, is genuine. Little Nai Ni is “funny and lovely and never wants others to carry the burden”.
Billi’s family could be any dysfunctional family. When I first heard Wang’s story, then titled In Defense of Ignorance on NPR’s “This American Life”, I though back to when my grandmother died. My sister was in medical school at the time and my parents briefly agreed not to tell her. “What was the plan?”, I wondered: Grandma went to “live on a nice farm” with our childhood pet guinea pig, Domino?
Eventually we told my sister who was sad but managed to both attend the funeral and pass her boards. Takeaway: We are not be nearly as good at this as the Wangs. Note to self: Step it up!
Oscar, Shmoscar don’t miss this movie streaming now on Amazon. It did leave me wondering two things, however. First, why didn’t Nai Nai notice that Billi wears the same shapeless gray T-shirt to the wedding banquet that she slept in? Second, how did this film, director, and leading actress not receive a nomination?
Writer’s note: my sincerest thoughts are with the citizens of China as they bravely deal with the outbreak of coronavirus.