Courtesy Big Beach

Review: The Farewell

A poignant look at family, grief, and navigating life between Eastern and Western cultures

IMDB Synopsis: A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.


The Farewell is a family drama built on a lie. A terminal cancer pronouncement is given to the family matriarch, Nai-Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) and the extended family then decides to keep the diagnosis from her, using the pretext of a rushed wedding to bring the entire family together in China one more time. But as the film unfolds, it’s evident that it is so much more than a run-of-the-mill drama. The Fare is the second film from writer/director Lulu Wang, and it’s an autobiographical look at the grieving process, celebration of life, cultural expectation, and the intersection of Eastern and Western culture.

The movie is built on this lie is a means, and the characters (and audience) must navigate grief and honorable deception to an ultimately hopeful and devoted ends. The film centers on Billi—played by a surprisingly deft dramatic Akwafina—plays the voice of reason. The young, first generation Chinese-American lives a seemingly typical NYC millennial life, and is understandably devastated by the Nai Nai news and equally baffled by the decision to keep it from her. Meanwhile, Billi’s parents (portrayed by the wonderful Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) must navigate both American- and Asian-expectations, and how that affects the family dynamic. Soon we’re in China introduced to rest of the family: The bride-and-groom to be Hao Hao and Aiko, Uncle Haibin, Aunty Ling, Aunty Gao… the list goes on; all wonderful performances.

But the wedding plot isn’t the focus. It’s the plot vessel for the emotional journey the characters and the audience both take. And highlighted along this journey—in every scene, every seemingly absurd moment—is the contrast between East and West. The film is built upon a preposterous—to the West—concept. But as each scene passes and each character’s motivations are revealed, you’re challenged; what would I do? How would I navigate this personal tragedy and the crushing burden of thousands of years of cultural expectation? I don’t want to give too much away because the journey is so astonishing, but ultimately, the film gives us its answer, which is a hopeful one that resonates across both cultures.


Highlights: The move shines in the little moments. Dinner conversations that highlight East versus West, yet burst with humor and bite. And there’s a third act scene between Billi and her mother Lu Jian that is equal parts magnetic and devastating (all while a drunkenly passed out Tzi Ma is in frame).

MVP: Shuzhen Zhao as Nai Nai. She’s sharp, full of humor, and shows dignified poise in the role. Which is unsurprising as she’s a popular actress in China.

Should you see it: Yes. Everyone should see this movie. 10/10.

Studio: A24 // Original release date: January 25, 2019

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