'The Farewell' Makes the Asian American Immigrant Experience Feel Universal
The Farewell is also the latest addition to the recent, growing wave of Asian-American-centered films gaining traction in the US. While To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Always Be My Maybe were both direct-to-Netflix rom com dessert, and Crazy Rich Asians portrayed a fantastical, luxurious love story that tackled some deeper topics within immigrant identity, The Farewell is serving something completely new; it’s a down-to-Earth portrayal of the differences between being Asian and being Asian American, using the familiar format of "indie family dramedy" to make these nuanced themes legible to anyone watching.
Where The Farewell excels most is in making Billi’s nuanced, navigation of these cultural differences legible to all viewers, even those who are not immigrants or have never had a similar experience. Part of this is thanks to the film's patient sense of payoff—it takes a number of family meals to reveal the subtle conversational dynamics between her relatives. Some of the humor relies on notes that are aimed specifically at Asian Americans; while waiting for her nai nai's newest X-Rays, Billi converses with the English-speaking doctor about her grandma's condition. Nai nai cannot understand English, but nonetheless asks the doctor if he's single, suggesting that he might a good match for Billi. In any other film, this scene would angle Chinese culture as a punchline, but in the context of this film’s development and framing, we instead get to enjoy this as a moment of in-group humor.