Musings on ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD & Tarantino’s treatments of women + minorities

It’s nearly a week ago that I saw the movie, and though there are parts that I did enjoy, there are more scenes that did not sit well with me. In fact, I didn’t even feel like writing about the movie, but posted my friend Ted’s review on it this weekend. The movie has received a high praise since its premiered in Cannes, which reportedly received a standing ovation, but the one bit I remembered most about its Cannes’ premiere was how Quentin Tarantino snapped at a reporter during the film’s press junket. NY Times’ reporter Farah Nayeri, asked Tarantino about Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in the film in which she played Sharon Tate. QT’s terse response was “I reject your hypothesis,” which in and of itself shows the kind of arrogance that he only plays by his own rules and doesn’t care how others perceive his movies.

After days ruminating on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, I feel compelled to write about my reaction on the movie. So this post isn’t so much a film criticism per se, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.

Now, after seeing the movie, I totally understood where Nayeri was coming from. Given that the movie’s plot (if you can even call it that) is practically a build-up to her and her friends’ gruesome murders by members of Charles Manson’s cult, Tate herself didn’t really have much to do here. Most of the 161-minute running time is spent on luxuriating on the two white male leads… they’re talking to each other, in a group, even talking to themselves, while we merely see Tate but rarely hear what she has to say. The writer of this Jezebel article says it best, “The audience learns about as much about Tate from these male characters as we do from Tate herself.” whether it’s via a male friend (secret admirer?) or via a narrator who suddenly shows up midway through explaining exactly what is happening on screen [shrug]. Thankfully, Robbie still manages to turn in a memorable performance as Tate, but her character (and the Manson family) are nothing more than a macguffin.

I suppose when you’ve got two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in one movie, you better make the most of it. Well, QT sure did, perhaps over-indulgently so. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a faded TV star navigating the changing landscape of Hollywood, while Pitt’s Cliff Booth is his loyal stunt double/lackey who’s ‘more than a brother, and a little less than a wife.’

Let’s start with Pitt’s character, which has more problematic scenes than DiCaprio’s, though both are basically antiheroes. There are countless scenes of Cliff driving recklessly through the Hollywood hills, up and down the LA streets day and night (apparently there’s no traffic in 1969??), but the scenes play up like a retro music video as they don’t seem to serve any purpose. Cliff is portrayed as a dashing, cool guy, apparently way too cool to go to jail for murder. QT’s flashback-within-a-flashback scene shows Cliff holding a harpoon gun pointing at his wife who was berating him. We never see him actually firing the gun, but to me, the scene is more than a mere suggestion that he did kill her, and somehow he got away with it. The fact that Kurt Russell‘s stunt coordinator character Randy and his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) are reluctant about hiring him speak volumes about Cliff’s reputation. Beneath the nice guy persona there’s something really dark lurking beneath. But yet QT seemingly puts the blame on the woman. The boat scene is made to look as if Cliff’s wife is an annoying, nagging wife and therefore she’s ‘asking for it’ and we’re supposed to be okay with a man getting rid of his wife because of that, in a violent manner no less.

Another scene that didn’t sit well with me is the Bruce Lee scene. Lee is played brilliantly by Mike Moh, and initially I was excited about the scene featuring the legendary martial artist who’s also a Hollywood icon. But here his depiction made me cringe. As I was watching it, I wondered how his family would’ve thought of the scene of him being insulted AND beaten by Pitt’s character, and sure enough I saw this article came through today from The Wrap. Lee’s daughter Sharon Lee was quoted as saying, “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father,” The article mentioned her saying that ‘…her father was often challenged, and tried to avoid fights’ which is NOT how he was depicted in the film, which was all puffery and arrogance. Lee was the only prominent non-white character in the film, yet he only serves to make the white guy appear even more heroic and invincible. Even if Lee was reported as a braggart in the media, there are SO many different sides of him that are positive and admirable. Another quote from Sharon Lee in the article states that “…as an Asian-American in 1960s Hollywood, he had to work much harder to succeed than Booth and Rick Dalton, the fictional, white protagonists of the film.” As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, as I did more reading on Sharon Tate, I found several articles about how Roman Polanski once thought Bruce Lee was the perpetrator of Sharon Tate and her friends’ murders, oh my!

Speaking of Polanski, lest we forget that Tarantino once defended him for having sex with a minor in an interview with Howard Stern (an excerpt is available here) to which QT has apologized for. After reading that, I was even more disturbed by the scene between Pitt and Margaret Qualley‘s Pussycat, who’s 31 years his junior in real life, where she propositioned Cliff oral sex while he’s driving. Qualley’s presence here seems to represent the gullible, morally-loose hippies and just like Tate (and also Dakota Fanning as another Manson family member), she’s also hyper-sexualized, the quintessential male gaze. But yet again, Pitt’s Cliff is seen as a chivalrous hero who refuses this pretty young thing’s offer, hence his heroic status.

This happens to be Tarantino’s first film without Harvey Weinstein’s involvement (all his previous films were produced by Weinstein). He admitted to NY Times back in 2017 that “I knew enough to do more than I did,” about Weinstein’s sexual misconducts. This fact warrants a mention here given the topic is about his treatment of women. In a similar way, Rick is largely tolerant of his friend/confidant Cliff’s dark, violent past, as many in the biz have been with Weinstein until the allegations finally came to light.

Cliff’s ‘heroism’ culminates in the brutal finale where I had to avert my eyes several times. Just like Inglourious Basterds where we see Hitler being riddled with bullets, we’ve come to expect revisionist history once again in QT’s latest, that is in regards to the Manson murders. The gruesome crime on Cielo Drive has been reimagined to happen at Rick Dalton’s house, where the young members of Manson’s cult encountered Cliff who’s high on acid-dipped cigarette [just what the heck is that exactly?]. The whole scene is extremely violent… I opened my eyes right at the time Cliff threw a can of dog food that smashed a girl’s face. The camera lingers on her bloody, smashed-up face and it just kept getting more and more vicious.

As if the gratuitous violence weren’t enough, they’re played for laughs. It seems that in QT’s mind, if he deemed that the people on the receiving end ‘deserve it,’ we can laugh at their misery and even revel in it. People in the theater were laughing when Leo’s Dalton grabs a flamethrower, apparently a prop from one of his movies, and burns one of the Manson girls to a crisp in his own pool. You couldn’t help but giggle at the utter preposterousness of what unfolds before you, but I also couldn’t help but shudder at the gratuitous violence. Yes, the Manson cult members are criminals and should be punished for their crime, but they aren’t in the same vein as someone like Hitler. In many ways, these young hippies were also victims, of Charles Manson’s deceptions and of the era itself. Perhaps QT thinks he’s doing Sharon Tate’s legacy a favor by ‘saving her’ in his reimagined Hollywood, but yet she barely even has any involvement in her own story. This is ultimately Rick’s story, even more so than Cliff ‘s even though Leo and Brad have a pretty equal screen time. When the violent commotion came to an end, Tate’s never even seen again, we only heard her through the intercom inviting her neighbor Rick for drinks as he chats with her friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). So her only purpose seems only to fulfill the protagonist’s dream that he revealed early in the movie (that one day he’d be cast in a Roman Polanski movie).

I wouldn’t call myself a Tarantino fan, given I’ve only seen a handful of his films–Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds–the last one being my favorite of his. But from reading about his work lately, there seems to be a disturbing pattern that is often seen in his film. In this THR’s article, writer Joelle Monique said ‘Even more distressing is the fact that violence against women is generally played for laughs in a Tarantino picture’ and she listed several movies where brutality against women are done so overtly. There is always a danger that brutal scenes in movies would normalize real life violence. It’s all the more disturbing when it comes to violence against women considering the statistics of how many goes unreported. So I simply cannot ignore, or worse, enjoy films where women are depicted as if they somehow ‘earned’ the violence done to them.

It’s been reported that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, QT’s ninth movie, is his most personal. It’s apparent that the movie is full of tributes to everything QT hold dear, the spaghetti Westerns, the foot fetish, and a plethora of other classic Hollywood obsessions that his fans would no doubt notice with glee. The painstaking detail to production design is no doubt astounding, transforming LA into what it would’ve looked like in the 60s. What is definitely apparent to me, who might not be too astute in pointing out the ‘easter eggs’ in QT’s movies, is how nostalgic he is to the bygone era. As the New Yorker article points out, ‘Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.’

QT compared Leo and Brad as the dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman. But in an era where the #MeToo and #DiversityMatters movements are gaining more and more momentum, this indulgent, nostalgic movie about the Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 60s seems, well, old fashioned. Now, I’m not saying that filmmakers can’t pay homage to a certain era, but it does bear the risk of going ‘backward’ if it isn’t done with care. It seems to be the case here with the protagonist’s constant gripe that the ‘good ol’ days’ are behind him and his reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s QT’s way of lamenting that ‘times are changing’ (with new, diverse filmmakers offering new voices and storytelling) and his fear of being viewed as a ‘has been.’

Lastly, putting all of the women/minorities discussion aside, is Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood a good movie? Visually speaking, it’s a gorgeous film shot by DP Robert Richardson. I’ve mentioned the amazing production design by Barbara Ling and I’ll say it again, it was astounding. But overall, this movie is way too long at 2 hours 40 minutes. It doesn’t help that the pacing is pretty sluggish, meandering and even disjointed at times. The ‘six months later’ jump when Cliff and Rick were in Italy seems pointless, just like many elongated scenes in this movie that go nowhere. Most of the movie’s running time is spent lingering on the outer beauty of the leads, but there’s not much depth beneath.

The one scene I did enjoy was the scene between Leo’s Rick and his 8-year-old co-star Trudi (scene stealer Julia Butters) on the set of the TV show Lancer. The young girl is the ‘mature’ one of the two and in the end, she ends up being a huge boost of encouragement the disillusioned Rick desperately needs. That’s perhaps the only meaningful male/female scene where the woman isn’t sexualized, mocked or brutalized. Acting wise, I think both Leo and Brad did an excellent job in their roles. I especially enjoyed Leo’s performance here, who’s charming and often hilarious while wallowing in self pity. I think the scene of Rick going berserk in his trailer would likely nab Leo another Oscar nomination.

In the end, it’s a stunning production to be sure, full of clever lines, gorgeous visuals and terrific performances. But it’s a soulless movie… I couldn’t really relate to the main characters and there’s barely any moment that truly moved me. Yes the film ends in a fantastical ‘happy ending,’ but it’s tough to feel joyful after such a barbaric gore-fest. Neither Cliff nor Rick were remotely changed by such a traumatizing incident, both of them pretty much stay the same from beginning to end. It’s as if it’s a commentary on QT himself. At 56, it seems he hasn’t evolved much as a filmmaker. I think the title ‘once upon a time’ is fitting here for a filmmaker who revels in the past. Reportedly QT is retiring soon? I doubt it, but I certainly don’t mind if he did.


So what are your thoughts on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Quentin Tarantino’s last two films were westerns, both were a tribute to his favorite genre, the spaghetti western. He’s now back with another tribute, this time to his favorite film decade and town, the 60s in Hollywood. Specifically 1969, the year that many people have said changed the Hollywood movie industry.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a popular leading man starring in a hit western show in the 50s. But when his show got cancelled, his star power went with it. He’s only able to land villainous role but still had hopes that some director will hire him as the leading man in their film or TV show. On a night out with his best friend/body double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), they ran into a film producer named Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino).

Schwarzs made a proposition to Dalton, go to Italy and be a leading man in their Western films. Dalton was of course offended; he thinks he’s above that kind of films and doesn’t want to work outside of Hollywood. Obviously, QT is using Clint Eastwood’s real-life career as a model for Dalton’s in this film. Dalton decided to accept another villainous role in a western show starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant). He also tried to get his buddy Cliff some stunt work on the new show.

But Cliff’s reputation around town isn’t good, so when Dalton’s at work, he drives around Hollywood and one day meets a hippie named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). Pussycat belongs to Charles Manson’s cult. Any fans of QT knows that his films don’t really have a plot, it just random things happening to the characters on the screen. And this film is no different. He introduced a bunch of famous people at that period of time including Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who happens to be a neighbor of Dalton’s. The entire film is kind of a build-up to the murder of Tate’s and her friends by the Manson cult members.

Performances by DiCaprio and Pitt were great. DiCaprio really embraced the has-been actor role and he’s hilarious in every scene he’s in. Pretty sure he’ll get another Oscar nomination. Pitt’s character on the hand is more reserved. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any funny lines, some of the scenes with Cliff were quite funny. Including a scene where he has a tussle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Robbie’s Tate on the hand, was more like a fantasy role. It’s hard to explain but maybe because Tate’s career was cut short because she was murdered and we don’t know much about her, and it’s the reason why QT wrote the character this way.

Visually, this is another stunning film shot by Tarantino’s regular cinematographer Robert Richardson. QT is one of the few filmmakers left in Hollywood that still prefer shooting in film, so this picture has that old school film look to it. With a reported budget of close to $100mil, QT’s largest production budget, he’s able to create the look and feel of the late 60s that I assume anyone who’s alive around that time would appreciate.

I don’t consider this to be one of QT’s best film, I think it’s middle of the road. At close to 3 hours longs, the film needed some further editing. There were several scenes that should’ve been cut or shorten. I think this is where QT’s longtime late editor Sally Menke would’ve helped and probably would’ve made the film a bit tighter. Also, the music selection and themes were quite forgettable. Many of his previous films contained great music but not this one.

It may not be one of his best work but it’s still better than many of the films currently playing in theaters right now. If you’re a fan of the actors or QT, then I would recommend you see this one at your local theater.

TedS_post


So have you seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD? Well, what did you think?

Advanced Screening Giveaway to OFFICIAL SECRETS

Happy Friday! We have another giveaway for this coming Tuesday!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you + a guest are invited to an advanced screening of OFFICIAL SECRETS in honor of National Whistleblower Day:

Tuesday, July 30
Alamo Drafthouse Twin Cities at 7:30 pm

RSVP using the link below, while supplies last.

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first serve and is not guaranteed.

Witness the untold true story of one woman’s fight for truth. 

She risked everything to stop an unjust war. Her government called her a traitor. Based on world-shaking true events, Official Secrets tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information.

One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

The film also stars Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode and Matt Smith. Official Secrets is directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky)

The film hits select Twin Cities theaters on September 13.


Trailers Spotlight: HARRIET and JOJO RABBIT

Happy [almost] Friday, folks! Today we have a set of trailers I think are worth checking out, and per tradition, I always like to mix the tone/genre/style when posting trailers. Both of these films deal with the horrifying injustices befallen our humanity, slavery and the holocaust, but done in two very different ways. One is a biopic drama and the other an anti-hate satire, both to be released this Fall.

HARRIET

Based on the story of iconic freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and subsequent missions to free dozens of slaves through the Underground Railroad in the face of growing pre-Civil War adversity.

I first saw Cynthia Erivo in Steve McQueen’s extremely-underrated thriller WIDOWS (one of my top 10 of 2018). I was so impressed with her performance, her feature film debut no less, that I’m thrilled to see her leading this overdue biopic. I’m surprised there hasn’t been any film made about Harriet Tubman, a real-life hero who’s become an icon of courage and freedom.

Glad to see a black, female director at the helm of this important film. This is Kasi Lemmons‘ fifth feature film, the last one she directed was Black Nativity (2013). Looks like we can expect a thrilling, intense and gut-wrenching biopic, I’m already tearing up watching the trailer. Of course some people surely have issues with Erivo’s casting, given that she’s British. Originally her Widows‘ co-star Viola Davis was supposed to play Tubman for HBO but not sure what happened to that project. But then again, a bunch of other Brits have played iconic American heroes, i.e. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln and David Oyelowo portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. Erivo may not be an American, but she does have African heritage (Nigerian) and who’s to say she won’t be able to do Harriet Tubman justice if she wasn’t born in the US? Apparently there are calls for boycotts which I think is just sad.

Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr. and Joe Alwyn also star in this film, and it’ll have its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens in theaters on November 1st. Fingers crossed it will also make the TCFF lineup this year!


A young boy whose imaginary friend is Hitler finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home.

Anything by visionistical (apparently he coined a new term) filmmaker Taika Waititi always intrigues me. Described as an anti-hate satire by the filmmaker, it’s based on a book called Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, a US-born novelist who lives in New Zealand. It’s worthy of note not only because Waititi is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, but here he also plays the imaginary friend, that is Hitler himself. Per IMDb, when Taika who is Jewish, was asked about why he chose to play the role of [a plumb] Adolf Hitler he said “The answer’s simple, what better f***you to the guy” Ha! You gotta love his zany brand of humor.

I’m thrilled to see Thomasin McKenzie amongst the cast, the NZ breakout star of Leave No Trace, another movie on my Top 10 list of last year. She plays the young Jewish girl hiding in the German boy’s (Roman Griffin Davis) attic. Scarlett Johansson plays his mother and the rest of the star-studded cast include Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, and Sam Rockwell. 

This has that dark comedy whimsy that’s quintessentially Taika’s… it’s wacky and irreverent yet with a touch of earnestness. What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok are all immensely watchable and highly-quotable, I have a feeling this one would be as well.

Jojo Rabbit will also have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and opens in theaters on October 18th. Man, I’m officially excited for Fall movies now, though no, I’m not ready for summer to be over yet.

 


Thoughts on these trailers, folks?

Advanced Screening Giveaway to ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

Happy Monday, folks!! Guess what, we have another passes giveaway!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you and a guest are invited to an advance screening of ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD on:

Wednesday, July 24
Showplace ICON (West End) at 7pm.

RSVP using the link below for your chance to attend (while supplies last)

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first served.
It is recommended to arrive early.  The film hits theaters on July 26.

“In this town, it can all change…like that.”

Some interesting trivia of the movie courtesy of IMDb:

This is Quentin Tarantino‘s ninth film and according to IMDb, he said he worked on the screenplay for five years and it’s also his most personal one yet. Apparently he started writing the story as a novel before realizing a film script would better suit the material.

Per THR, Tarantino describes it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).” But QT has maintained that the movie is more about the era it’s set in and not about the Manson murders.

#OnceUponATimeInHollywood


Once Upon A Time in Hollywood opens in theaters this Friday 7/26. Are you excited to see this film?

Guest Postcasting on St Paul Filmcast – Fave movies we saw in 2019 so far + Female 007 news

Hello everyone!

I thought as we start the new week, I’m doing something different. Yesterday I was guest podcasting at St Paul Filmcast, an awesome & prolific Twin Cities-based entertainment podcast that talks about movies and interviews various filmmakers. I’m privileged that podcaster/graphic novelist Nick Palodichuk invited me to talk about some of my favorite movies we saw in 2019.

Take a listen by clicking the logo below:

At the beginning of each episode, there’s a spot for dedication… I’m dedicating this podcast episode to all my wonderful BLOG CONTRIBUTORS: Laura S., Holly P., Ted S., Vitali G., Vince C. and most recently Andy S. Thank you guys!!

Here’s a sampling of some of the films I talked about in the episode…

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I’ll be seeing Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD on Wednesday, so look for my review by this weekend!


Before the episode ended I also got to talk about the recent exciting news that BOND 25 will be introducing a female 007!

I had already talked about some of the things revealed in Bond 25 reveal last April where they introduced Lashana Lynch as one of the new cast members, along with Ana de Armas and Rami Malek. Well, now we know just who she’ll be playing!

In case you haven’t heard, per Esquire UK

“The 25th film opens with Bond (Daniel Craig), retired in Jamaica, being called back to action to fight a new villain. There is a pivotal scene at the start of the film where M says, ‘Come in 007,’ and in walks Lashana who is black, beautiful and a woman. It’s a popcorn-dropping moment. Bond is still Bond but he’s been replaced as 007.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the fact that Phoebe Waller-Bridge is one of the Bond 25 screenwriters has something to do with this. After all, she is the creator of the hit series Killing Eve where Sandra Oh who’s a woman of Korean descent plays an MI5 agent. Now, to those who are up in arms over this [puh-leeze], 007 is just a spy code name. Yes, there is only going to be one James Bond (and will likely always be portrayed by a white male), but anyone could be assigned to be a 007. I really think this is a step in the right direction for the 57-year-old franchise, while still maintaining status quo.

Now, as for the casting of Lashana Lynch, I’m glad they went with a British-Jamaican actress, as is Naomie Harris who plays Moneypenny. It totally make sense the fact that some parts of the film takes place in Jamaica, a key location for the Bond franchise as the place the franchise was created by Ian Fleming. So they’re going back to their roots, so to speak. Despite all the behind-the-scenes and on-set dramas surround this movie, I’m now even more excited to see what director Cary Joji Fukunaga would do with Bond 25!


So tell me what’s your favorite movie(s) you’ve seen so far? And what do YOU think of the female 007 news?

FlixChatter Review: THE FAREWELL (2019)

I knew about this film when it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year. Yet for whatever reason, it sort of fell off my radar until A24 started promoting it vehemently for its theatrical release. I’m so glad they did and this film deserved ALL their backing. It simply deserves to be seen.

The Farewell is writer/director Lulu Wang‘s sophomore directorial work, and it’s one I can readily describe as masterful. The tagline says ‘Based on an actual lie’ which is provocative yet accurate given that it’s Wang’s own personal story. The film opens with a young woman, Billi (Awkwafina) on the streets of NYC chatting on her mobile with her grandma whom se calls Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) in China. The film is mostly in Chinese, though occasionally the characters would be speaking in English as Billi’s family has immigrated to the US. Soon we find out that Nai Nai is dying from lung cancer, but her family decides to hide the grim prognosis from her and plan a fake wedding instead so everyone could gather before she dies.

It’s a deceptively simple premise but one that packs a wallop. It’s a deep, emotional, culturally-resonant film that’s also filled with humor and whimsy. I’m always in awe of filmmakers who can mix pathos, comedy and emotional drama seamlessly and Wang certainly achieved that here. The Farewell feels like an authentic experience of a Chinese family, as well as those of Chinese Americans, especially the second/third generation individuals who have to straddle the two worlds. As someone who wasn’t born in the US but have lived here more than half my life, I totally get the ‘I don’t belong anywhere’ feeling, of being torn by the two cultures.

The film focuses on Billi who has trouble concealing her grief. She’s particularly close to Nai Nai, so despite her parents’ protest, she went ahead and attend the ‘wedding’ in China. I love how the film highlights the family dynamics and how much of the conversations take place in the dining table. My mouth watered seeing all those yummy food on the dining table. It’s so integral in Chinese culture as love and affection is often expressed through food. In this story, ‘the lie’ becomes the one thing that unites the family as they all have to bond together to keep the secret hidden from Nai Nai. There’s several poignant discussion between Billi, her dad and uncle about how it’s practically illegal to do such things in the US. Yet in China, and perhaps another culture, this is not only customary but also a courtesy… ‘a person doesn’t just belong to one self, but to his/her family’ as her uncle points out. It’s the family’s ‘duty’ to carry the burden for the sick one… which is quite a foreign sentiment in the West, but that is the point. This East-West discussion has been done before in other films but it doesn’t feel clichéd nor recycled here.

Apparently this is the first ever PG-rated film out of A24 film, and I can definitely say it’s a film you can bring your whole family to see. I think it’s an accessible film for American audiences, even those who aren’t usually into films with subtitles. The script is punchy, lively and even poetic at times, but remains authentic to the journey/experience of the characters. Though my own grandma is very different from Nai Nai depicted here, I could definitely relate to her relationship with Billi and some of their conversations are downright nostalgic.

I have to devote an entire paragraph just for Awkwafina who’s absolutely perfect here in her first starring role. The first time I saw her was in Crazy Rich Asians in which she was the scene stealer as a gregarious, colorful, sociable BFF. Her performance couldn’t be more different here as Billi is more a recluse who barely smiles and wears practically the same gray/black outfit everyday. She’s truly the heart and soul of the movie as the film is framed from her perspective. It truly displays her range as an actor and I sure hope she continues to gain more leading roles in the future.

The supporting cast are an excellent mix of veteran character actors and newbies. Tzi Ma has been in a plethora of TV and films (I definitely remember him in Arrival and you’ve likely just seen him in the new Mulan trailer). He and Diana Lin are excellent as Billi’s parents, Lin portrays the quintessential strong, no-nonsense Chinese matriarch who actually reminds me of my own grandma. The mother/daughter relationship is one of the major highlights here as well, where things aren’t always rosy but in the end they understand each other. I’m curious about the casting process to find Nai Nai. Shuzhen Zhao‘s quite good in her first ever acting role and she has a believable rapport with Awkwafina which is so key to the story.

I really love Wang’s direction here and I’d even argue she should get nominations as Best Director come award season. Now I’m really curious to check out her directorial debut Posthumous (starring Brit Marling and Jack Huston) that’s available on Amazon Prime. The pacing of this movie is just right, and at 1 hour 38 minutes there’s barely any wasted minute. Her directing style shows some flairs but not overly over-the-top. I like the slo-mo of the family walking towards the camera following a pivotal scene, and the long shots of the umbrella-clad family scurrying in the rain. Kudos to Spanish DP Anna Franquesa Solano for her brilliant cinematography and composer Alex Weston for the absolutely gorgeous music that adds so much to the mood. The music is a perfect mix of heartbreak and that feeling of ‘dissonant’ that also has a vibrant, lively vibe.

I’m thrilled that in the past couple of years there are more and more films that tell the Asian-American story… Crazy Rich Asians might’ve opened a door for such storytelling, and since then I’ve seen Go Back To China, Always Be My Maybe, that are all highly-recommended. Hopefully we see even more diverse voices in cinema as there are SO many tales worth telling from parts of the world that don’t get explored often in Hollywood.

I sure hope the Academy won’t overlook this next year, especially for Wang and Awkwafina. Lastly, I want to implore you to see this film in the cinema. Trust me, all the hype is justified and it still holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 107 reviews. Be sure to pack tissues when you go see it, it’ll make you laugh and cry in equal measure in this joyful, poignant celebration of family.


Have you seen The Farewell? I’d love to hear what you think!