Joel Coen of the Coen brothers once remarked, “All movies are an attempt to remake The Wizard of Oz.” He likely said that tongue in cheek, however, I believe there’s more truth to that statement than may meet the eye.
Consider the structure of TWOO:
Act One: Dorothy in Kansas — her Ordinary World —an exploration of her feeling out of place in her aunt and uncle’s household. Suddenly, she is swooped away to an Extraordinary Word — the Land of Oz.
Act Two: Dorothy in Oz experiences many challenges and meets new faces, learning much in the way of insight about local culture and — more importantly — her own inner life.
Act Three: Completing all the challenges, she returns to Kansas, now happy to call it her home.
Now let’s compare the structure of The Farewell:
Act One: Billi in New York City — her Ordinary World — an exploration of how she is not succeeding as a writer, therefore, she is struggling to stay afloat in the Big City. Suddenly, based on the news that her beloved grandmother is dying of cancer, Billi finds herself whisked away to an Extraordinary World — China.
NOTE: She has barely spent any time in China and hardly speaks the language. Plus, at first she can’t understand the Chinese mindset, specifically about lying to her grandmother about her health. Therefore, China *is* an extraordinary and strange place.
Act Two: Billi in China experience many challenges and meets new faces, learning much in the way of insight about local culture and — more importantly — her own inner life.
NOTE: At one level, her metamorphosis arc is about buying into the Chinese reverence for the family and the collective, as opposed to the American way of the individual and individual freedom.
Act Three: Completing all the challenges, Billi returns to New York City, prepared to take up the fight once again as a creative.
NOTE: While the challenges aren’t as rigorous as Dorothy’s, e.g., returning with the Wicked Witch’s broom, Billi does on several occasions have to stifle her instinct to tell her grandmother the truth. And there is that time when she has to run to the hospital to retrieve the latest x-ray exam results, then go one step further in doctoring that information.
It’s classic Hero’s Journey structure:
Separation — — Initiation — — Return
That’s a mile high view of the plot. It also features a conventional approach to plot points. Maybe someone will take up that analysis…