The Farewell

With a semi-autobiographical screenplay and direction by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a family dramedy starring rapper-come-actress Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8) and a top pick at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. 

As a kind of antidote to the bombast of summer blockbusters and A-list comedic numbers laden with high expectations, The Farewell’s trailer is refreshingly subtle both in terms of its cinematography and its underscore. 

Pizzicato (plucked) cello introduces us to a scene at night in the family home; no time is wasted in the exposition: the family’s grandma is dying, and they are seeking to keep it a secret from her while also convening to celebrate her life. As soon as the news is dropped, a wordless melody joins the cello, floating above the minor-key arpeggiation. 

This wordless voice turns into a wordless choir, and then a string section underpins it—the hymn-like major chords accentuate the bittersweetness of the everyday life scenes that unfold.

Interestingly, at 1:05 the height of the drama in the music stops for a one-liner by grandma that is distinctly comedic in tone, as though self-acknowledging the audience’s tolerable limit on immersive melodrama. It also feels palpably more real this way—a reflection of the relative mundanity of real life.

This also provides a nice segue to the second half of the trailer, which features a 2012 indie track by The Apache Relay, “Power Hungry Animals.” It has an energy that retains the strings but reflects the propulsion of the narrative as we see a range of different snippets from the film that explore its central issue, directly highlighting “the difference between the East and the West” at 1:36. 

At 1:46 we get more critical appraisal cards and the first use of lyrics in the music. “Souls cannot be fooled,” the band sings, while at the same time Awkwafina’s character says through tears, “I want to believe that is a good thing.” It suggests some deep questions about what we have a responsibility to do—or not do—for the greater good, and moreover, how the manner in which we do something might matter more than what is said. In any case, the musical choice for the latter half of the trailer is a great fit in terms of instrumentation, tone, and lyrics.

Notably, the last moment of the trailer is of grandma’s laugh, well after the song ends; her character ended the first half of the trailer as well, on a similarly light note. 

Overall, The Farewell’s trailer successfully pairs the remarkable and the everyday, both in its dialogue and in its musical choices, to successfully convey the film as a compelling slice of life.

— Curtis Perry