By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, based on her own experiences, the intergenerational-bonding comic drama “The Farewell” revolves around a Chinese-American artist, Billi (Awkwafina), living in Brooklyn, who returns to her hometown in northeastern China when she learns that her adored Nai-Nai — grandmother in Mandarin — has Stage IV lung cancer.
The family decided not to tell Nai-Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) that she only has a short time to live, believing that anxiety could kill her before the cancer. Instead, Nai-Nai’s two sons, their wives and children gather in Changchun, ostensibly for the wedding of Billi’s cousin Haohao (Han Chen) and his Japanese girlfriend, Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara).
Ambitious and Americanized to her core, Billi believes that suppressing her grief and keeping the severity of Nai-Nai’s illness secret is wrong but — as the family reunion progresses — she begins to appreciate the intrinsic value not only of the deception but also of her Chinese culture/heritage.
Eastern philosophy underscores balance and harmony, minimizing conflict while emphasizing a collective consciousness. Which is why Billi’s family chooses not to reveal Nai-Nai’s medical condition.
Americans emphasize the individual, she’s told, while in China family always comes first. Billi’s uncle tells her: “You think one’s life belongs to one’s self.”
Originally, Lulu Wang’s bittersweet story was on TV’s “This American Life” (2016) and included interviews with family members — both before and after Nai-Nai outlived her original diagnosis.
“People keep asking me, ‘Do you think what they did was right? Do you now support the lie?’ And I don’t have a clear answer,” Wang confesses. “I don’t know what’s right. I do know that the lie has allowed me to spend three months in China with my grandmother and share all these experiences with my family … but, on an ethical level, I’m still torn.”
FYI: Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Oceans 8”) is the professional name of rapper Nora Lum.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Farewell” is a compassionate, endearing 8. Its cinematic success proves that diversity and inclusiveness is good business.
Positioned as a spinoff, “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” reintroduces disgraced DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) who now partners with his former adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a rogue military operative.
These two enemies-turned-allies reluctantly join forces when Shaw’s estranged sister, MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) steals a deadly bioengineered virus with the ability to “melt you from the inside” and goes on the lam. She’s pursued by the anarchist Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a billionaire British “black Superman” with lots of cybernetic enhancements. And, of course, there’s a ticking doomsday clock.
After 18 years and eight feature films, this macho-men fantasia has become known for its goofy bickering banter, explosive car chases and gratuitous violence. Not surprisingly, screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce and director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde,” “Deadpool 2”) continue the lunacy, noting Shaw’s short “Hobbit legs” and Hobbs’ looking like “a giant tattooed baby.”
As the superspy Hattie Shaw, Kirby (“Mission Impossible — Fallout”) is hardly a damsel-in-distress but there’s a major problem. According to the Internet Movie Database, 31-year-old Vanessa Kirby was born in 1988 and 52-year-old Jason Statham was born in 1967. Since they were born 21 years apart, how could they have played together as children at the same time?
Even Helen Mirren, as Shaw’s imprisoned criminal-mastermind mother, cannot rectify the audience’s incredulity at the age difference. So it’s off for a finale in Hobbs’ native Polynesia, where Dwayne Johnson has no problem doing the traditional Samoan war dance.
Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart appear briefly in uncredited cameos, while Dwayne Johnson’s real-life cousin, WWE’s Smackdown Superstar Roman Reigns, plays his on-screen brother.
On the Granger Gauge, “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” revs up for a silly, shallow 6, spinning its wheels for an exhausting 135 minutes.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)