A movie can be a Rorschach test. When I invited my friend to see The Farewell, she said, "I don't think I can watch a movie about a woman dying from cancer tonight." But to me, that's not what it's about. It's about the love between a grandmother and her grandchild. At least, it is in its best moments. Which is why the trailer appealed to me.
Awkwafina was a comedy MVP last summer, appearing in Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Here she gets to show a broader range of emotion as Billi, who wears her heart on her sleeve yet must somehow keep the secret that her grandmother is dying. The scenes between Billi and her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) are by turns tender and funny. Nai Nai is a lovable yet controlling matriarch which sometimes makes it difficult keeping her own diagnosis from her.
The movie has a strong ensemble cast. There aren't as many big laughs as I'd have hoped for. A scene where the family visits the grandfather's grave and leaves him food, arguing over how to prepare it, is hilarious.
Alternately, the movie doesn't become the cathartic tearjerker I'd hoped for either. I was hoping to have more of an emotional rollercoaster experience with the film. I wanted to feel more than I did.
Ultimately, it's a worthwhile experience. Awkwafina gives a great performance and I hope to continue seeing more from her. A new Awkwafina movie every summer would be a welcome trend. It's more original than a lot of what you'll see on the commercial theater screens. But frankly, I didn't enjoy it as much as Yesterday. Awkwafina and director Lulu Wang will probably get some love at the Independent Spirit Awards. Wang could score a Best Original Screeplay nod.