2019 Favorites: August — The Farewell
Lulu Wang’s film examines where culture, tradition and family duty clash with one another, and that’s where it thrives.
In a venture that is equal parts keeping track of some of the favorite things that happen in 2019 and also stretching my writing muscles to think about things other than sports (and more specifically), I’m going to post about my favorite things I come by each month. That includes anything from a movie to a tweet to a great meal. Here’s to enjoying, and remembering, the best parts of the year.
January: Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life
February: Desus & Mero Return On Showtime
March: Sabrina Carpenter Concert @ House of Blues
April: Game of Thrones “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
May: Florence + the Machine Concert @ T-Mobile Arena
July: Ashlyn Harris’ World Cup Instagram story
Favorite of the Month: The Farewell
At its best, a family is a tight-knit unit which supports each other, defends one another and brings forward the greatest parts of themselves. At its worst, family drama can range from petty to cold, all of which is deeply cutting. What’s found more often is a tightroped nuance between warm civility and critique that can slip into passive-aggressiveness. The Farewell is a film that lives within the push-and-pull of a few different dynamics, but it particularly excels when it spotlights the family at the center of its story`.
Lulu Wang’s second feature film is based loosely on her own experience and is mostly told through the vantage point of Billi, wonderfully played by Awkwafina. Upon learning her grandma, Nai Nai (Mandirin for “parental grandmother), only has a few months to live, Billi struggles with her family’s choice to not tell Nai Nai. Instead, the family throws a fake wedding so everyone has a reason to go to China and spend a few final days with her.
The stress of putting on a wedding is compounded by the sorrow of watching Nai Nai buzz around with excitement that her family is all together for the first time in more than two decades. Old friction starts to come to the surface, and it bubbles up particularly in one dinner scene.
Though most of the meals take place at someone’s home, this particular scene is set at a restaurant featuring a slowly spinning Lazy Susan. Billi’s uncle and aunt, who live in Japan, say they sending her son to America for college and the tensions reveal themselves.
Billi’s family, which moved to America when she was young, are proud to consider themselves American and even have American passports. In Billi’s eyes, America isn’t that great, citing the country’s trouble with gun violence. Meanwhile, her uncle proudly says he’ll always call himself Chinese even though he lives in another country now too. The conversation turns somewhat into a thesis on not forgetting where you come from while acknowledging that it might not be greener on the other side, but it still has a few nice patches of grass. In between each prolonged silence, the Lazy Susan spins hypnotically if not comedically. Wang said the scene was most in jeopardy because it didn’t move the plot, and yet it is the one that lays most of the story’s cards on the table.
That dinner, and the movie as a whole, shows the negotiation of familial love that can crack but never break under the weight of guilt, grief and cultural differences. The story dances between how the family’s decision to withhold information wains on the family and also considers Billi’s own relationship to her Chinese, American and Chinese-American identities and where those philosophies might conflict with one another.
Wang doesn’t provide an answer as to whether the family’s choice to keep the secret is right. She doesn’t say whether western or eastern ideals are superior, either. The point of the movie isn’t to find answers but rather shed light on how several correct answers that can exist. Sometimes, all there can be is an acknowledgement of those multiple truths and how people — centrally, a family — can come to respect one another for finding those different avenues to a resolution.
I honestly think Fleabag might’ve been my favorite of the month, but I don’t have much more to say other than it’s great. Season two in particular is two-and-a-half hours of Phoebe Waller-Bridge showing that she is TV’s best writer between this show and Killing Eve. From the opening of the second season, you can just tell a jump has been made — not in terms of quality because season one was in itself good television — but in audaciousness and flare. Andrew Scott’s priest gives a memorable speech in the finale that embodies the show: shocking, humorous, and actually heartwarming. The entire show is chef’s-kiss perfect.
The Crown (Season 2)
Claire Foy deserved all the awards. Her second go as Queen Elizabeth II spotlighted her ability to dance with so many emotions right behind a calm demeanor. With merely a tilt of the head, she spoke grandly, and as the scope of the show grew, so did the lived in rootedness of her performance. I’m sad the show is moving forward in time and thus with another cast for future seasons (very excited for Olivia Coleman!!!), but I’m glad I finally got around to finishing this cast’s run.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu
So much fun. Sure, the movie gets a little gimmicky and hits the normal beats of an action/adventure story, and it features humans talking to CGI characters, including a Ryan Reynolds-voiced Pikachu, but it’s entertaining in the best way. A live-action Pokemon movie is exactly what my 8-year-old self dreamed it could be.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge @ Disneyland
Disneyland’s shiniest new section is incredibly immersive. Once you enter “Batuu,” you’re truly in the Star Wars universe. Disneyland cast members speak like there’s no other universe other than the Star Wars one, lightsabers (custom ones go for $200!!!) whir past you regularly, and Chewbacca might move by you without notice. My girlfriend and I even spotted a group playing sabacc with a cast member on the ground near one of the restaurants.
Also, the Smuggler’s Run ride is ridiculously fun. You get assigned one of three jobs: pilot (vertical or horizontal), engineer or gunner. Unfortunately for my group, I was the pilot in charge of thehorizontal movement, and we kept swerving left and right because I was too amazed by the video display in front of me to pay attention to the road. But it doesn’t matter. I PILOTED THE MILLENNIUM FALCON. I’M BASICALLY HAN SOLO NOW.
Also: Blue Milk, properly hyped.
There’s a difference between an artist whose songs all sound the same and one who brings a level of consistency to each project. I’m not sure what the difference is, really, but I do know that Thug is the latter, and I appreciate it.