The Farewell

Movie poster image of 8 multigenerational family members, 3 sitting on the couch, 5 standing behind the couch. The film title, "The Farewell" is noted as is a subheading, "Based on an Actual Lie." The seal for 2019 Sundance Film Festival official selection is displayed.

Review by Cherise T.

Continents apart, but only a cell phone call away, Billi, a New Yorker, and Nai Nai, her paternal grandmother in China, enjoy a close relationship. As The Farewell begins, we fall into the humor, complexities, and challenges of cross-cultural families. Viewing the film from the perspective of Billi, played by the versatile actor Awkwafina, we soon learn that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Most of the family believes traditional Chinese wisdom that it is best to allow a family member to live out her life unburdened by the knowledge she is about to die. Billi strongly disagrees. Little Nai Nai, the grandmother’s sister, has been Nai Nai’s caretaker and takes charge of covering the truth. Together, the family creates a contrived family celebration so that everyone may be together in China to secretly say goodbye to Nai Nai. 

The Farewell feels authentic because the screenwriter and director, Lulu Wang, has recreated a beautiful journey from the truths of her own life. Little Nai Nai is played by Lulu Wang’s real-life aunt. When the family visits their deceased grandfather’s grave, the scene is filmed at the actual gravesite. We recognize the roles played out in most families – the responsible son, the guilty son, the matriarch, the awkward cousin, the daughter-in-law, the granddaughter who has yet to bring a spouse and grandchild into the family.

I highly recommend the film for its emotional depth, at turns both sad and optimistic, excellent performances, and solid script. Please also consider listening to Lulu Wang telling her family’s story on This American Life, but save the “What You Don’t Know” podcast episode for later if you don’t want to know the film’s ending.

The film is rated PG and would be appreciated by viewers aged 13+. Watch as many as 10 films per month, including The Farewell, on kanopy, one of the HCLS streaming service subscriptions.

Cherise T. is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.

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