Review: A lovely, bittersweet family story in 'The Farewell'

Awkwafina stars in “The Farewell.”

“The Farewell”

Rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic material, brief language and some smoking.” 98 minutes. ★★★★

The premise behind writer and director Lulu Wang’s wonderful film “The Farewell “ might be a little hard to accept for some audiences. A family collectively decides not to tell their grandmother that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has only three months to live. But wanting a chance to say goodbye, they arrange an elaborate ruse — a wedding — to get everyone together one last time.

Far-fetched? For Americans it is. But as we learn in the first frame, the film is “Based on an actual lie.”

Yes, Wang has mined her family’s wild true story to create a film that, despite its hyper-specific premise and setting, is a universally relatable and heart-rending portrait of how looming death affects a family. It’s not emotionally manipulative or even necessarily a tear-jerker, although it’s not a bad idea to bring along tissues. “The Farewell” is a stoic and honest representation of a flawed and lovely family coming to terms with the inevitable.

The film is a heady, gentle and emotional journey, but Wang also packs the frame with layered conversation and funny background action. She makes the family dynamics feel universally familiar while also presenting an authentic portrait of China and Chinese families.

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