Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2019. , , . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by , , , , , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , . American film Institute 2019. Golden Globe Awards 2019. Gotham Awards 2019. Independent Spirit Awards 2019. National Board of Review Awards 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019.
Billi (played with enormous sympathy by) came to America with her parents as a small child and is now an adult struggling to get by on her own in New York. She’s late on the rent, she’s been turned down for a Guggenheim fellowship and now, worst of all, she has found out that her beloved grandmother, with whom she speaks on the phone every day, is terminally ill. Her parents have decided to go back to China for one last visit, where they will be joined by her father’s brother, who has been in Japan for as long as she’s been in the States, but her family informs her that they have decided not to take our heroine with them. Her grandmother hasn’t been told that she is dying, the family has convinced Billi’s cousin to have his wedding in Changchun so that they can pretend this is the reason they have all been reunited, and Billi’s parents don’t want her to attend as they believe that her transparent emotional nature (which they deliciously imply is American culture having a negative influence on her) will make it impossible to keep up the lie. Defying them and flying over anyway, Billi is surprised to find herself facing the struggle that she has long suffered about her identity, drudging up the fears that first greeted her as a child in her adopted country while dealing with this emotionally devastating loss on the horizon. Lulu Wang’s touching film is deeply sentimental and all the more satisfying for it, she gets great reserves of feeling from her star’s perpetually stymied expressions that speak to her character’s ambivalence about the situation she finds herself in: on the one hand Billi understands her family’s desire to keep her grandmother happy, but she’s also miserable about lying to someone who deserves to know the truth. Wang seamlessly weaves personal and cultural concerns into a rich experience, presenting Billi’s painful conundrum as an examination of east versus west ideology, American individualism clashing with community-oriented Asian beliefs. Awkwafina’s emotional honesty is matched beautifully by ’s irrespressible charm as her loving grandmother, the connection she feels for her is so vibrant that it’s impossible not to become fully emotionally entangled in the film’s narrative concern.