Tag Archives: Awkwafina

The Farewell

Billi (Awkwafina) is barely scraping by, trapped somewhere between her parents’ disapproval and her need for their continued financial support when she’s blindsided by the news of her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. Grandma, aka Nai Nai ( Shuzhen Zhao), is in China, and totally oblivious to her health status. Billi’s parents, Jian (Diana Lin) and Haiyan (Tzi Ma) moved to America when Billi was 6, but she’s always managed to stay close to her grandmother. She’s disturbed when she finds out her parents are willing to keep the secret from Nai Nai, and even more dismayed when she learns they, and the rest of the family, will be travelling to China to say goodbye under the guise of a wedding. But Billi, known for being awfully emotional, is not invited. One look at her teary eyes would tip off Nai Nai for sure.

She goes anyway.

What follows is lyrical, moving and a thoughtful tribute to family, and the nature of goodbye. But it’s also a meditation on some of the differences between East and West. In China, it’s common practice to hide this type of diagnosis from a loved one. Billi feels conflicted about this choice, and reminds people that in America, it would be flat-out illegal for medical professionals to hide someone’s medical status from them. But Billi’s uncle insists that in Asia, family trumps everything, and it is their job to bear this emotional burden for her, so that Nai Nai’s last months or weeks or days are not wasted on sadness and regret.

And certainly, the film is not wasted on sadness or regret. The family throws a wedding so that all Nai Nai’s friends and relatives can gather round her one last time without arousing her suspicious. A very obliging girlfriend of just 3 months goes along with it and wins good sport of the year for the next dozen years. So now the onus is on Billi to say goodbye in a non-obvious way.. And it turns out she’s not just saying goodbye to Nai Nai, but to her last real link to China.

The ensemble cast is uniformly terrific. They really create a dynamic that is utterly believable as a family, and that’s why the movie works so well. It could easily melt toward the sentimental but manages to stay firmly away from the overwrought. That said, the writing is good. Very good. it rings true and feels relatable. Awkwafina is of course the light and joy of the film, but don’t expect her usual goofball act. The Farewell is not a comedy. It is subdued, and tragic. But Lulu Wang’s writing and direction keep it authentic and filled with compassion, the kind of film that unites us in our humanity.

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Crazy Rich Asians

Netflix has quietly been reviving the rom-com: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, and Set It Up have all drawn in big numbers for the streaming service, and to be honest, for us Assholes too, even though I didn’t like any of those movies, and was actively offended by at least one of them. Netflix was smart enough to offer a very lucrative deal to the team behind Crazy Rich Asians, but that team knew that if they were successful, they could make not just a film, but an event, a landmark, even. It’s been 25 years since we had an all Asian or Asian-American cast (with The Joy Luck Club), which is a number as astonishing as it is embarrassing. But with this summer’s indie successes for Blindspotting, Sorry To Bother You, and BlacKkKlansman, (and heck, I’d even put Eighth Grade on that list) audiences are proving that diverse casting and story-telling is more than welcome in theatres.

I read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan some time ago and kind of loved it. It’s one of those fluffy, easy reads that was somehow elevated by the specific characters and setting. It opened the door to a hidden part of Asian culture and it made the reader feel part of the secret. So while I try my best to support diverse stories with my dollars, Crazy Rich Asians had already hooked me with its story. Could the film live up to the book?

In a word,  yes. Of course, it diverges from the book in some pretty big ways, but I think the spirit is definitely there.

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It’s about Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American who flies to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to meet his family for the first time. Nick fails to prepare her for his family’s immense wealth, or for their insular, reclusive, snobbish lifestyle. Their rejection of her is immediate and definite. His mother (Michelle Yeoh) and aunts are downright cold, and the other young women (who perhaps fancied themselves in the running for his hand, and his inheritance) are wickedly cruel. Still, Rachel persists, determined to put on a brave face as she navigates the lavish “wedding of the century” featuring Nick’s best friend Colin as the groom and the beautiful Araminta as the stunning, head-turning bride. Rachel’s only ally is her college friend and roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina) whose own fortune is dwarfed by the deep pockets of old money in Nick’s family.

Director Jon M. Chu has only two hours to communicate the impressive opulence that the book devotes chapter upon chapter to, and while he could never quite achieve the great wall of wealth presented in the book, he works hard visually to transplant the luxuriance and splendor directly into our brains. And of course the scene that works best for this is the wedding – a wedding that cost the bride’s parents more than Donald Trump could piss away in a lifetime. Tens of millions. It’s seriously impressive.

And so is the large ensemble cast – though because of their numbers and the obvious time crunch, we don’t get to know nearly as many of them even half as well as we do in the book. This is very much the story of Rachel and Nick, and everyone else takes a backseat. Although Rachel’s best friend, and curiously, that friend’s dad take up a fair bit more screen time than the novel would suggest. That’s because Chu has the delightful Awkwafina and zany Ken Jeong adding their signature spice to the mix, and Nico Santos as well, which means Crazy Rich Asians isn’t just romance and jaw-dropping locations – this shit is funny.

And it’s a lot of fun to watch, highly entertaining and enormously enjoyable. At times it veers almost into the fantastical, but it’s definitely the kind of movie that sweeps you away, from over-the-top sets and locations to the recognizable pop songs with an Asian twist. Even Sean, who probably likes your typical rom-com even less than I do, chuckled throughout and declared it a good deal of fun – and for once I could repay the favour by keeping him back for a mid-credits scene. The movie is, almost by definition I suppose, more formulaic than the book, but the familiarity is broken by the eye-popping setting and fresh cultural references. And if you love it, and I bet you will, that mid-credits scene hints at a possible sequel…in fact, the books make up a trilogy. Isn’t that just the best news you’ve heard all day? Get thee to a theatre for a Crazy Good Movie today.

Ocean’s 8

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has an annual gala to celebrate its epic costume exhibits. It’s the most exclusive party in town, and guests compete to see which top-tier designer will outfit them. It’s a parade of jaw-dropping gowns and over the top accessories worn by the biggest celebrities who don’t mind being incredibly uncomfortable for an evening. It’s paparazzo heaven, and whoever dons the most shocking and exquisite dress WILL make the front page of every magazine and newspaper the next day. I live for this shit: the shoes, the jewels, the blatant disregard for theme. The MET gala is an institution. And it’s a fucking lot of fun to watch some badass women rob the damn thing.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister who’s fresh off a 5-year stint in the slammer. That’s 5 whole years she’s had of dedicated heist planning, so on the day of her release, she hits the ground running, and the first place she runs to is her old friend and MV5BMzk0M2Y0YWQtZWVlYy00MGU2LTk1NmQtOGRlYWM4ODhlYjkwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) who doesn’t need much convincing. The plan is not to rob the museum, but to rob the neck of famous actress and red carpet savant Daphne (Anne Hathaway) of the 6lbs\$150 million dollars worth of diamonds that will be hanging there ever so tantalizingly.  Who could resist? Debbie and Lou assemble a crack team including a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a soccer mom fence (Sarah Paulson), and a master of the sleight of hand (Awkwafina) to pull off the ultimate crime.

When Ghostbusters got an all-female reboot, sad little cockmuppets cried that their childhoods had been ruined. It seemed like there was less vitriol for an all-female version of Ocean’s, perhaps because the Ocean’s fans are adults rather than manbabies suckling at the teat of nostalgia. Still, I couldn’t help but be sad when Debbie herself justifies her all-female team: women are far more likely to be overlooked.

Ocean’s 8 is good but not great. It’s a heist movie and you’ll never question where it’s going, but the fun is how it gets there. And there is some fun here. Helena Bonham Carter, splendidly cast as a kooky designer, has the time of her life. Anne Hathaway, who I normally cannot stand, earns some laughs with her starlet parody. And Cate Blanchett, hooo-eeee, let’s just sit here and ignore the fact that I’m about to objectify her, big time. Those bangs. Wispy blonde bangs that fall into her eyelashes just so. She’s constantly blinking under their weight, and I’m constantly imagining how I might sweep them away for her. Knock me over, knock me right over.

But with nearly every ensemble, my complaint is similar: just not enough time with all of my favourites. Sarah Paulson is a working mother conwoman, a criminal type we do not often glimpse in Hollywood’s depiction of the underworld, and Paulson’s talent is so enormous she maximizes her screen time and paints her character with charisma and relatability. Mindy Kaling is effervescent but underused. Newcomer Awkwafina has clearly got star power, but she’s not exactly getting equal screen time with the Oscar winners on either side of her. Even though you only need 8 women to do the job of 11-13 men, the movie still feels crowded and the cast just doesn’t always get what it deserves. There are way too few female characters in this genre, and the 8 here are still just a drop in the bucket. We need to see a lot more lady (crime) bosses to even up the score, but maybe next time a lady boss behind the camera might also be in order – you know, if you want it done right.

Dude

I’m glad that teenage girls are finally having their moment as three dimensional characters in film. Shopping and boys, that was the John Hughes model. Teenage boys were the hunters and girls their prey, and it’s taken until 2018 to flip the script, first with Blockers, which dared to show young women actually in charge of their own sexuality. Dude follows in its footsteps.

Lily (Lucy Hale) and her friends are in their last year of high school. That’s all that I knew going into this film that recently popped up on Netflix. That, and they were stoners. Not promising, I thought. So colour me surprised when, in between masturbating and getting high, they made friends with me.

Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), Chloe (Kathryn Prescott), and Rebecca (Awkwafina) have MV5BMTk5MDk1NTQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4ODk5MzI@._V1_been super tight as far back as they can remember, and can hardly envision a future that doesn’t include each other – like, on a daily, hourly basis. So the ultimate theme of this movie is not so unusual: it’s letting go. Letting go in more ways than one, sure, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

But what is remarkable is the depth to the characters and the way the script (by director Olivia Milch) refuses to infantilize them. These ladies are EMPOWERED. Their virginity isn’t idolized. They can smoke pot AND be valedictorian. These girls are me (like 4 minutes ago, when I was in high school). Portraying young women as they are shouldn’t feel so monumental, so brave, but it is. This may be how lots of girls act, but it’s not how society wants to see them, and so we don’t. We pretend that girls don’t want these things because it threatens the status quo.

The cast is good, with Awkwafina being a particular stand out for me: I’m crushing hard. And I can’t wait to see literally everything Milch does for the rest of her life. But most of all I’m just kind of feeling all puffy-chested that a movie like this can finally exist. And that you can still find diamonds amongst the usual Netflix coal. And that someone, somewhere, is willing to take a risk on a movie like this.