The Farewell (2019 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Mandarin||Bié Gàosù Tā|
|Literally||Don't tell her/Don't let her know|
|Directed by||Lulu Wang|
|Written by||Lulu Wang|
|Music by||Alex Weston|
|Cinematography||Anna Franquesa Solano|
|Box office||$13.4 million|
The Farewell is a 2019 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Lulu Wang, based in-part on her own life experiences. The film stars Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, and Jiang Yongbo and follows a family who, upon learning their grandmother has only a short while left to live, decide not to tell her and schedule a family gathering before she dies.
The film was screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was theatrically released in the United States on July 12, 2019, by A24. It received acclaim from critics, with particular praise for Wang's screenplay and direction and the performances of Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen.
Aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi maintains a close relationship with Nai Nai (a term used to mean 'paternal grandmother' in Mandarin) who lives in Changchun, China. After receiving a rejection letter for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Billi discovers from her parents, Haiyan and Jian, that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and is predicted to have only a few months left to live.
Through deception and manipulation of medical test results, the diagnosis is kept secret from Nai Nai herself. Nai Nai is, instead, falsely told that her recent doctor visits have only revealed benign findings. A wedding for Billi's cousin, Hao Hao, from Japan has been planned in China, as an excuse to unite the family together and spend what is expected to be one last time with Nai Nai. Fearing Billi will end up exposing the lie directly to her grandmother, Haiyan and Jian tell her to stay behind in New York City.
Billi disobeys her parents' orders and ends up flying to Changchun by herself, shortly after the rest of the family arrive there. Though Billi assures her parents that she won't reveal the cancer diagnosis to Nai Nai, throughout the trip Billi clashes with the rest of the family, including the doctor treating Nai Nai, over their deliberate dishonesty towards her grandmother.
Guilt-ridden, Billi expresses conflicted thoughts with her parents over the Chinese cultural beliefs that result in a family refusing to disclose such a life-threatening disease to the matriarch. One night, her uncle, Haibin, contends that the lie allows the family to bear the emotional burden of the diagnosis, rather than Nai Nai herself—a practice of collectivism that, Haibin acknowledges to Billi, differs from the individualistic values common in Western culture. Billi later learns that Nai Nai also told a similar lie to her husband when he was terminally ill up until his death.
On the day of the wedding, both Haibin and Hao Hao break down in tears on separate occasions, but manage to proceed through the rest of the banquet as planned without raising Nai Nai's suspicions. That night, Nai Nai gives Billi a hóngbāo, encouraging her to spend the money as she chooses. When Billi reveals to her grandmother about the Guggenheim Fellowship rejection, Nai Nai responds by encouraging Billi to continue following her dreams.
Billi keeps her promise to maintain the lie and shares a tearful goodbye with Nai Nai, as the rest of the visiting family members return to their homes in Japan and America. The credits reveal that, six years after her diagnosis, the woman Nai Nai's character was based on is still alive.
- Awkwafina as Billi Wang
- Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang, Billi's father
- Diana Lin as Jian Wang, Billi's mother
- Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai, Billi's grandmother
- Lu Hong as Little Nai Nai, Nai Nai's younger sister
- Jiang Yongbo as Haibin, Haiyan's older brother
- Chen Han as Hao Hao, Haibin's son
- Aoi Mizuhara as Aiko, Hao Hao's girlfriend
- Chen Hanwei
- Li Xiang
The film was based on a story initially shared on This American Life. Wang said that the film was based on her grandmother's illness, stating that "I always felt the divide in my relationship to my family versus my relationship to my classmates and to my colleagues and to the world that I inhabit. That's just the nature of being an immigrant and straddling two cultures."
The film was primarily shot in Changchun, China over the course of 24 days in June 2018. The filming also took place in New York. In an interview with Filmmaker, cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano stated that the references for the film included Force Majeure and Still Walking. However, she added that her main source of inspiration came from "spending time with Lulu's family at their home in Changchun, during pre-production.”
The film had its premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2019. In January 2019, A24 acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film for $7 million, over Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Fox Searchlight. It was released in the United States on July 12, 2019.
In its opening weekend the film made $355,662 from 4 theaters for an average of $88,916 per venue; it was the best average of 2019, besting Avengers: Endgame's $76,601. It expanded to 35 theaters in its second weekend and earned $1.14 million, then made $1.5 million from 135 theaters in its third. The film continued to expand in the following weeks, making $2.4 million from 426 theaters and then $2.2 million from 705 theaters.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% and an average rating of 8.76/10, with 217 out of 218 reviews being positive. The site's critics' consensus reads: "The Farewell deftly captures complicated family dynamics with a poignant, well-acted drama that marries cultural specificity with universally relatable themes." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film an A− grade and praised Awkwafina's performance, writing, "As a Chinese-American grappling with the traditionalism of her past and its impact on the future, she's an absorbing engine for the movie's introspective look at a most unusual family reunion." Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote, "Wang movingly tells not just a story about the negotiations of familial love, but also of the immigrant experience, of revisiting one's homeland to, in some senses, say goodbye to it." David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter commented, "its moments of sweet sentimentality are fully earned and heartfelt."
Christy Lemire writing for RogerEbert.com says Wang "achieves a masterful tonal balance throughout... She’s made a film about death that’s light on its feet and never mawkish". She says of Awkwafina's performance, "it's thrilling to see her previously untapped, formidable dramatic abilities on display in a lead role", and says Zhao Shuzhen plays the role of Nai Nai with "sprightly charisma and plenty of zingers". She says Zhao is "the most frequent source of laughs", but goes on to say that "as delightful as [Zhao] is in this crucial, central role, she will also quietly rip your heart out by the film’s end". Brian Lowry of CNN.com describes it as a "small, melancholy movie that explores cultural differences and dealing with death in an utterly charming, understated manner", and says "The performances are terrific, with Awkwafina exhibiting a more dramatic side, Shuzhen Zhao stealing every scene she's in as Nai Nai (Mandarin for grandma) and [Tzi] Ma wrestling with old demons dredged up by the prospect of losing his mom".
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