Awkwafina won the Golden Globes Best Actress award for her performance as Billi in this comedy and the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the BAFTAs. It came number 17 in the Guardian’s Best 50 films of 2019. The film follows a Chinese family who, when they discover their beloved Grandmother has only a short while left to live, decide to keep her in the dark and schedule an impromptu wedding to gather before she passes. Billi, feeling like a fish out of water in her home country, struggles with the family’s decision to hide the truth from her grandmother. It is semi-autobiographical family drama from writer and director Lulu Wang.
Chinese American Billi (Awkwafina, building on her zesty comic turn in Crazy Rich Asians) has a foot in each of the two countries. The American tendency to freely share thoughts and feelings collides with the Chinese way of parcelling up emotions. The two identities co-exist in Billi, until the moment that she learns that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that her family have decided to keep the information from the elderly lady. “Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die,” says Billi’s mother (Diana Lin). “But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” Billi disagrees, arguing that Nai Nai should have the chance to confront her fate.
A hastily convened wedding provides the cover story to bring the extended family back to China to bid farewell to their unwitting matriarch. Cut-away shots of the shellshocked happy couple, Billi’s cousin and his Japanese girlfriend, steamrollered into marriage after three months of diffident dating, are among the many sly comic asides that punctuate this poignant story.
As gifted a writer as she is at creating playful, visually layered frames, Wang is constantly juggling clashes – of cultures, of tragedy and joy, particularly during a heart-to-heart conversation between Billi and Nai Nai, which plays out against the backdrop of the soon-to-be married couple posing for wedding pictures wearing panicked, firing-squad grimaces. Ultimately, it’s all about balance, a yin and yang of roots and identities, humour and pathos that comes together into a satisfying, bittersweet wedding banquet of a movie.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall