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421. The Farewell; movie review

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Title : 421. The Farewell; movie review
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Cert PG
98 mins
BBFC advice: Contains mild bad language, sex references

Just when I think I have decided upon my top five movies of the year, a classic unexpectedly pops up.
It has taken me an age to get around to The Farewell but what I discovered was a rare gem of a family drama.
This is all the more surprising because the premise of Lulu Wang's true story is not particularly inspiring.
It merely boils down to her grandmother being diagnosed with terminal cancer but not being told the truth.
Yes, apparently it is Chinese custom not to tell a terminal cancer prognosis to a victim. Instead, the relatives are informed and then do everything they can to keep the bad news away.
This is particularly tricky for aspiring writer Billi (Awkwafina) who has been brought up in the United States but is still very close to her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) who lives in China.
The whole family know she only has weeks to live but return from their homes abroad to pay last respects even though they cannot tell the matriarch she is dying.
They manage this by creating a fake wedding between her grandson who is based in Japan and his girlfriend who cannot speak Chinese.
Obviously, there are moments of sadness during The Farewell and Billi finds it hard to cope with Chinese sensitivities and is particularly gobsmacked that the medics are part of the subterfuge.
But, as time goes on, she becomes more immersed in her native culture, seeing the love which prompts the decision not to tell.
It is noticeable that her grandmother is never weighed down by the prognosis and is instead a fully participant peahen, lovingly at the centre of the action, rather than wracked with fear at her own impending demise.
Shuzhen is terrific as the matriarch - ordering her family around with a broad smile while Awkwafina is utterly convincing as the girl who is crossing cultures.
I also should offer a shout-out for Diana Lin as Billi's mother who has mounting resentment of her daughter's free-thinking as the pressure of tradition bites.
Family is the most important element of my life and, like others, we have suffered illness and loss which is why The Farewell resonated so much.
But its real skill was the humour in the face of adversity and both its beautiful writing and acting. It is one of 2019's most moving films.

Reasons to watch: Poignant and nearly perfect
Reasons to avoid: Just a tad repetitive

Laughs: Three
Jumps: None
Vomit: Yes
Nudity: None
Overall rating: 9.5/10

Did you know? A 2018 study showed 98% of Chinese physicians would discuss a cancer diagnosis with family members before discussing it with the patient and 82% of them will not tell the patient if the family requests “not to tell”. 

Final word. Lulu Wang: "I just wrote from my own experience, and my own struggles to balance the two sides of my own identity. The side of me that’s in America and working as a director, and the side of me that is from China, with my grandparents and my family." 

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