The Farewell (2019)

the farewell poster 2019 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Thought provoking


Movie Info

Movie Name: The Farewell

Studio: Big Beach Films

Genre(s): Drama/Comedy

Release Date(s):  January 25, 2019 (Sundance)/July 12, 2019 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

the farewell awkwafina china

Who am I?

Billi Wang (Awkwafina) learns that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is dying…but no one is going to tell her. With the ruse of a marriage of her cousin, Billi’s family is traveling to China for their last goodbye. Against the wishes of her parents, Billi heads to see her grandmother and struggles to determine if keeping the secret is the right thing to do in a country she doesn’t entirely understand.

Directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell (別告訴她 or Bié Gàosù Tā aka Don’t Tell Her/Don’t Let Her Know) is a comedy-drama. The film is based on Lulu Wang’s personal essay “What You Don’t Know” which originally appeared on This American Life episode “In Defense of Ignorance” which aired on April 22, 2016. The film premiered at Sundance and was released to critical acclaim. Awkwafina received a Golden Globe for her performance (the first for an actress of Asian descent at the Golden Globes).

the farewell doctor visit

Well…this is awkward

I remember the initial This American Life telling of story of The Farewell. It was one of those stories you cannot believe is true, but also a realization that it isn’t our culture or an American belief system (generally everyone but the patient is unaware of what is said in a doctor’s office). When translating a short story to film, there is always a concern, but the film nailed it.

The story is basically a culture clash, but it is also a story of someone feeling disconnected to her identity. Billi’s anger at not telling her grandmother isn’t just because she deserves to know (in a Western perspective), but it is also the realization that she doesn’t understand her own culture. She can speak and understand Chinese (decently), but she doesn’t know China…it was a choice taken from her by her parents who moved to United States for a better life. The film does a good job presenting this idea and the struggle that Billi is going through (which essentially is selfish in regards to her grandmother’s condition effect on Billi instead of her health).

the farewell family cast

One happy family?

Awkwafina is very expressive in her role. She does a great job emoting what she is thinking since she isn’t even permitted to say it out loud. It is a great first lead role and leaves you seeing what the actress is capable of. Zhao Shuzhen is relatively well known in China but not here in the United States (she had to be wooed to the role). She does a great job with the role because her character is ignorant of her condition…it is about trying to work past sickness and move on. In general the cast is strong, but I also found Diana Lin’s speech about what is expected from mourners quite strong. Everyone sees death differently and judging people on how they handle death isn’t right (which is another reflection of the plot of the film).

the farewell awkwafina grandmother

Goodbye is the hardest part…

The movie has a great feel to it too. By placing the “view” in Awkwafina’s Billi, you get to see China from almost an outsider. Things like the cemetery scene and the wedding scene show the differences between the cultures and the similarities. It is a different and modern China that often isn’t presented on camera in the United States.

The Farewell is a strong movie. It raises a lot of questions about what death means and how to approach it. The coda to the movie revealing that the “farewell” wasn’t a farewell (Lulu Wang’s grandmother continues to live) raises the question if her life would continue with death looming over her…not knowing her condition can help her rally against it. The Farewell isn’t a movie about sadness and death, it is a movie about life and families…seek it out.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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