The Farewell Parent Guide
A richly human drama about love, lies, and family.
Parent Movie Review
Six years ago, Lulu Wang’s family members were given bad news: her grandmother, known as Nai Nai, had stage 4 lung cancer with a life expectancy of six months. The family chose not to share the diagnosis with Nai Nai, instead expediting a grandson’s wedding to create a plausible reason to return to China and spend time with her. Luckily, Nai Nai has beat the odds and is still alive. And Lulu Wang has written and directed a movie based on the experience: The Farewell, which in its opening credits, announces that it is “based on a true lie”.
With a story arc virtually identical to Wang’s real life experience, The Farewell stars Awkwafina in a heartfelt performance as Billi, a twenty-something aspiring writer in New York City. Billi has maintained close ties with her own Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), talking on the phone frequently and telling reassuring fibs about her life. And Nai Nai returns the favor, prevaricating about a visit to the hospital. When Nai Nai’s sister, Little Nai Nai (Hong Lu) is given the news that Nai Nai has incurable lung cancer, she makes the decision not to tell her sister and spreads the word to the family.
As a North American, with internalized beliefs about personal autonomy, this decision is almost incomprehensible. To me – and to Billi – it feels like a betrayal; a denial of Nai Nai’s ability to make her own decisions, to administer her affairs, and to say her good-byes. But to Nai Nai’s family, it is seen as a kindness. After all, they believe, the fear of the disease will cause increased suffering and will hasten their loved one’s death. As Billi’s uncle (Yongbo Jiang) explains to her, “You think one’s life belongs to oneself. In the East a person’s life is part of the whole. It’s our duty to carry her emotional burden for her.”
And carry that emotional burden they do. The wrenching undertow in this movie isn’t Nai Nai’s cancer diagnosis, it’s the tremendous load her family bears as they deal with their crushing grief without being able to speak honestly with Nai Nai. Kudos go to the entire cast of The Farewell, all of whom give moving performances as stricken family members suppressing their feelings and allowing only small moments of emotional honesty to slip out. In this case, less is definitely more.
In addition to being an emotionally powerful film, The Farewell, is also extraordinarily realistic. Wang used her cousin’s wedding venue and her grandfather’s cemetery as sets in the movie and even drafted her real Little Nai Nai to play herself in the movie. Best of all, the movie manages to be true to life without being full of sexual content or profanity – I counted only one swear word. There is however, lots and lots of drinking. Family members drink heavily on several occasions and one character is so inebriated he has to be put to bed and undressed by his wife. And several family members play a drinking game which leaves at least one character severely intoxicated. None of the content issues would prevent older children from seeing this film, although the issues around death might be upsetting for some.
The Farewell fills an increasingly empty niche in theaters – it’s an emotionally rich drama without sexual content or excessive profanity. Moviegoers looking for a deeply human film that makes them think and laugh and wonder at the complexity of their fellow beings should head for the local multiplex. Hopefully, box office success will encourage Hollywood to offer more clean, thoughtful productions instead of bidding farewell to the genre.Directed by Lulu Wang. Starring Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, and Gil Perez-Abraham.. Running time: 98 minutes. Theatrical release July 19, 2019. Updated July 31, 2019
Watch the trailer for The Farewell
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Farewell rated PG? The Farewell is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic material, brief language and some smoking.
Violence: None noted.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: One scatological curse word is used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Frequent social drinking. Main characters drink on several occasions, sometimes becoming inebriated. Main characters play a drinking game and some of them get very intoxicated. One character is so drunk, his wife has to put him to bed and undress him. There is reference to a past history of alcohol abuse for one character. Two characters smoke cigarettes on a few occasions.
Page last updated July 31, 2019
The Farewell Parents' Guide
Do you think lies are ever justified? Is it ok to tell a lie to make someone else feel better? Is it ok to tell a lie to get yourself out of trouble? To make a social situation less uncomfortable? Do you think “good lies” are intrinsically in conflict with honesty and integrity?
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Different cultures have different practices and traditions around death and funerals. Coco takes audiences into the afterlife, as seen through Mexican traditional beliefs. Miguel’s quest to become a musician is interrupted by a trip to the land of the dead.
Cultural traditions and misunderstandings are regular fodder in movies about weddings. Crazy Rich Asians features an American Chinese professor meeting her boyfriend’s “crazy rich” Singaporean relations. In Bride & Prejudice, a wealthy American businessman is fascinated by a beautiful Indian woman – who he keeps inadvertently offending. My Big Fat Greek Wedding follows the madcap antics of Toula’s rambunctious American Greek family as she marries a non-Greek.
Another movie which sees a lie being told for someone else’s benefit is The Good Lie. This moving story follows Sudanese refugees in America.