I have been hearing about this film for so long. I remember telling Nate about it months ago and he brushed me off like I was crazy. I would like the record (and his glowing review) to show, I WAS RIGHT. This film was great in so many different ways. Like Crazy Rich Asians, it’s a work that is able to transcend borders and languages and immerse the viewer in a new culture, allowing them to walk away feeling like they have learned something. We need more films like this considering the current state of our world. Lulu Wang did a great job at telling this story in a way that was accessible to those outside of the culture and making it hit hard for anyone that has dealt with family politics and the reality of losing someone they love. While most of this film takes place in China, a viewer anywhere in the word will find scenes they will relate to.
The story takes an immigrant family from America to China when they find out their matriarch is dying of cancer. The family stages a wedding as an excuse to bring everyone together. As per Chinese customs though, the family has decided to not tell their beloved Nai Nai (Shuzen Zhao) that she is dying. This brings to the forefront Billi (Akwafina) and her struggle to reconcile her American upbringing and her deep Chinese roots.
When I first heard that Akwafina was leading this cast, I was skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, she is a phenomenal comedic actor. I just couldn’t see her in a role like this. After the first scenes, however, any doubts I had quickly faded away. It is clear that she was the correct choice for this role. She displayed range and depth as a performer, but mostly in subtle ways that the script demanded. The great performances did not end with her though. Tzi Ma and Diana Lin were also great as Billi’s parents.
This is just a beautifully written and told story. There are plenty of emotional ups and downs. I was also genuinely surprised how funny the script was. Given the subject matter, I am sure you can understand my initial impression that this would be fairly depressing. At times though, it was truly funny. Comedy wasn’t just used to lighten the mood. It showed how families organically communicate and deal with conflict together.
I honestly did not have any major problems with this film. If I were to get really nitpicky, there were a few scenes that they felt like they went on for just a bit too long. But, at the same time, with this type of film where you are immersed in a family in this way, it feels organic. This is a really heartbreakingly beautiful film. Keep this one on your radar for awards season.