The pushing and pulling between blood ties and cultural ties is explored with a light touch and a keen eye for detail in this delightful, semi-autobiographical family drama from writer and director Lulu Wang. Chinese-American Billi (Awkwafina, relying on her prickly comic turn in crazy rich asians) has one foot in each of the two countries. Wang presents the idea with the same skillful writing and ironic insight that characterizes the film in its entirety. Billi walks the streets of New York City speaking on the phone in the respectful Chinese of a devoted granddaughter to her beloved Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen). “Yes, I wear a hat”, reassures Nai Nai (she is not). Then she effortlessly changes character and language to joke in American-accented English with a canvasser on the street.
The American tendency to freely share thoughts and feelings clashes with the Chinese way of sharing emotions. The two identities coexist in Billi, until she learns that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and her family has decided to withhold the information from the old lady. âThe Chinese have a saying: when people get cancer, they die,â says Billi’s mother (Diana Lin). “But it’s not the cancer that’s killing them, it’s the fear.” Billi disagrees, arguing that Nai Nai should be given the chance to face his fate.
A hastily convened wedding provides the cover to bring the extended family back to China to bid farewell to their unwitting matriarch. Cut-away shots of the shocked happy couple Billi’s cousin and Japanese girlfriend, steamroller-married after three months of shy dating, are among the many sneaky comedic asides that punctuate this poignant story.
As good as she is at creating playful, visually layered frames, Wang constantly juggles clashes – of culture, tragedy, and joy. I especially liked an open-hearted conversation between Billi and Nai Nai, which takes place against the backdrop of the soon-to-be married couple posing for wedding photos with panicked grimaces and shooting team. Ultimately, it’s all about balance, a yin and yang of roots and identities, humor and pathos coming together in a satisfying and bittersweet wedding banquet from a movie.