“Based on an actual lie”, a lightly fictionalized story based on the real life experiences of director/writer Lulu Wang and her grandmother. Little white lies shared from both sides to smooth off the rough edges in life.
“Billi” (Awkwafina) is a young Chinese American living the single life in New York, she is busy going nowhere fast while looking to jump-start her career with a fellowship at the Guggenheim.
When Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal cancer the family go into shock but Nai Nai is not worried, as she was not told the diagnosis. Apparently not uncommon in China, an elderly relative will not be advised for fear of upsetting them and ruining the limited time they have left.
The family decide to visit and say their goodbyes, by arranging a family wedding to coincide with the trip. Billi however is not trusted to make the journey, as she will likely get upset and be unable to continue the lie.
Billi already in melancholy mood as she awaits news of her latest application for a scholarship, decides on a whim to travel to China against her family’s wishes.
The family group then all carefully tiptoe around Nai Nai, ensuring she remains in a good mood as the flimsy pretext of the family wedding plays out.
Whether taking on the heartache and stress of knowing such life changing news, whilst protecting a more vulnerable person’s mental state is the right approach is debatable.
Nai Nai supported by her sister seems strong enough to take on anything, whilst still reinforcing stereotypes of grandmothers everywhere, eat some food and why are you not married yet?
Billi also struggles with her parents attitude towards the situation. Her father takes solace in drink, whilst her mother deploys a very matter of fact approach, disproving of the professional criers employed by some family’s at funerals.
Overall a slight tale but imbued with real feeling and most importantly we get see Awkwafina further extend her range. Zhao is also a fine actress, perfectly cast in the role, seeing everything and nothing, while deploying a string of acerbic comments only the “old” can get away with.
The film certainly found a decent worldwide audience on what would have been a shoestring budget. The film is in English but with occasional segments utilizing subtitles.
Recommended as an undemanding but ultimately rewarding watch, celebrating family in all it’s forms, both the highs and lows.
A thoughtful, gentle tragicomedy about nothing and everything. With great acting from the ensemble cast.
The film emphasizes the importance of family and highlights the differing Eastern and Western approach to terminal illness, diagnosis and treatment.