Despite its early release, “The Farewell” might not have to say goodbye to its Oscar hopes. The film fits the mold of one particular slot in the expanded Best Picture lineup: The little indie that could. That selection is a small independent feature with little star power that thrives thanks to positive word-of-mouth. In the past, films like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which premiered at Sundance, became a sleeper summer hit. The film had no familiar actors and was the directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin, yet the feature scored four major Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
“The Farewell” might be following a similar awards season narrative. With the exception of lead actress, Awkwafina, the cast is full of unknowns. However, it’s still playing like gangbusters in its slow theatrical rollout. In just 135 theaters, “The Farewell” managed to crack the Top 10 at the box office. Given how summer is a time for starry blockbusters to dominate, this makes “The Farewell” a major success.
The film’s own narrative, handling cultural expectations and internal struggles, also puts the film nearer to awards fodder. The story about a family matriarch dying of cancer, mixed with drama and levity, should strike a chord with a number of voters. Because the picture is based on writer/director Lulu Wang’s life, that might add to its powerful narrative. Plus, there’s the significance of what major nominations for “The Farewell” would mean.
Historically, AMPAS has had an underwhelming track record when it comes to honoring Asian talent. “The Farewell” is an opportunity for them to mend that, though. Awkwafina would be the first actress of Asian descent since Merle Oberon back in 1935 to compete in Best Actress. In addition to competing in Screenplay, Wang could earn a nomination for Best Director and be the first Asian woman to do so.
Then there’s the possibility of Best Supporting Actress for newcomer Zhao Shuzhen, who plays the aforementioned family matriarch. Lastly, there’s Best Picture to consider. On Awards Circuit’s current Oscar predictions, we have the film ranked ninth on our predicted Best Picture lineup.
Given its immense acclaim, emotional storyline, and significance for representation, “The Farewell” seems like it has a strong recipe for a Best Picture contender. A few years ago, its distributor A24 won Best Picture with “Moonlight,” another little indie that could. Even if “The Farewell” doesn’t become a frontrunner, A24 could still create similar magic.