The Farewell (2019 film)

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The Farewell
The Farewell poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
MandarinBié Gàosù Tā
LiterallyDon't tell her/Don't let her know
Directed byLulu Wang
Produced by
Written byLulu Wang
Music byAlex Weston
CinematographyAnna Franquesa Solano
Edited by
  • Michael Taylor
  • Matthew Friedman
  • Ray Productions
  • Big Beach
  • Depth of Field
  • Kindred Spirit
Distributed byA24
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (2019-01-25) (Sundance)
  • July 12, 2019 (2019-07-12) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Mandarin
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$17.9 million[2][3]

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[4] 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 to spend what is expected to be one last time with Nai Nai. Fearing Billi will end up exposing the lie to her grandmother, Haiyan and Jian tell her to remain in New York City.

Billi disobeys her parents' orders and flies to Changchun, shortly after the rest of the family arrive there. Billi assures her parents that she will not reveal the cancer diagnosis to Nai Nai. Throughout the trip, however, she clashes with the rest of the family, including the doctor treating her grandmother, 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 with 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 up until his death when he was terminally ill.

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.[5] 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."[6]

The film was primarily shot in Changchun, China over the course of 24 days in June 2018.[7][8] The filming also took place in New York.[9] In an interview with Filmmaker, cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano stated that the references for the film included Force Majeure and Still Walking.[9] 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.”[9]


The film had its premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2019.[10] In January 2019, A24 acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film for $7 million, over Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Fox Searchlight.[10][11] It was released in the United States on July 12, 2019.[12] A fully Mandarin-subtitled version of the film is played in select theaters on September 8, 2019.[13]


Box office[edit]

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.[14] It expanded to 35 theaters in its second weekend and earned $1.14 million,[15] then made $1.5 million from 135 theaters in its third.[16] It continued to expand in the following weeks, making $2.4 million from 426 theaters and then $2.2 million from 705 theaters.[17][18] The film expanded further to over 800 theaters in the next few weeks, $1.4 million from 861 theaters, $882,623 from 816 theaters and $841,414 from 891 theaters.[19][20]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% and an average rating of 8.73/10, with 250 out of 253 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."[21] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[22]

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."[23] 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."[24] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter commented, "its moments of sweet sentimentality are fully earned and heartfelt."[25]

Christy Lemire writing for 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".[26] Brian Lowry of 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".[27]


The Farewell won the Audience Award at the 2019 Sundance London film festival.[28]


  1. ^ Clark, Travis (August 3, 2019). "'The Farewell' is becoming one of 2019's top box-office success stories". Business Insider. Retrieved August 3, 2019.
  2. ^ "The Farewell (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  3. ^ "The Farewell (2019)". The Numbers. IMDb. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (November 28, 2018). "Sundance Unveils Politics-Heavy Lineup Featuring Ocasio-Cortez Doc, Feinstein Drama". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  5. ^ "What You Don't Know". This American Life. December 12, 2017. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  6. ^ Saval, Malina (January 4, 2019). "10 Directors to Watch: Lulu Wang Shows Another Side of Awkwafina in 'The Farewell'". Variety. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  7. ^ ""To Revisit Such a Traumatic Experience for the Sake of Our Movie": Director Lulu Wang | The Farewell". Filmmaker. January 25, 2019. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  8. ^ "Awkwafina Leads 'The Farewell'; Marc Maron Brandishes 'Sword of Trust': Specialty Box Office Preview". July 12, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c ""Make This Conversation in a Small Room with White Walls Work": DP Anna Franquesa Solano on The Farewell". Filmmaker. January 31, 2019. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Fleming Jr, Mike (January 27, 2019). "A24 Near WW Deal For Sundance Buzz Title 'The Farewell'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  11. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (January 27, 2019). "Sundance: Awkwafina Drama 'The Farewell' Lands at A24". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  12. ^ Erbland, Kate (February 21, 2019). "A24 Seeks Summer Box Office with Release Dates for 'The Farewell' and 'Last Black Man'". IndieWire. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  13. ^ "A Full Mandarin-Subtitled Version of 'The Farewell' is Coming to Theaters This Weekend". /Film. September 6, 2019. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  14. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 14, 2019). "Counterprogramming 'Crawl' & 'Stuber' Collateral Damage In Superhero Summer As 'Spider-Man' Climbs To $45M+ – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  15. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (July 21, 2019). "The Farewell Is King of the Indies as David Crosby: Remember My Name Rides Documentary Box Office Surge". IndieWire. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  16. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 27, 2019). "Hooray For 'Hollywood': Quentin Tarantino Sees His Biggest B.O. Opening Of All-Time With $40M+ As 'Lion King' Still Lords With $76M+ – Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 4, 2019). "'Hobbs & Shaw' West Coast Business Driving Pic To $60M, But Looks To Overseas For More Muscle". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 4, 2019.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 11, 2019). "'Hobbs' Hauls $25M; 'Scary Stories' Frighten 'Dora'; 'Kitchen' Sinks Melissa McCarthy & Tiffany Haddish To Career B.O. Lows". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 18, 2019). "How Universal Is Reviving The R-Rated Comedy & Making 'Good Boys' Great At The B.O. With A $21M Opening". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  20. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (September 1, 2019). "Keira Knightley in 'Official Secrets' and Molly Ivins Doc 'Raise Hell' Lead New Openers". IndieWire. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  21. ^ "The Farewell (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  22. ^ "The Farewell reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  23. ^ Kohn, Eric (January 25, 2019). "'The Farewell' Review: Awkwafina Gives Her Best Performance in Bittersweet Dramedy — Sundance". IndieWire. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  24. ^ Lawson, Richard (January 31, 2019). "Awkwafina Proves She's More Than a Comedian in The Farewell". Vanity Fair. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  25. ^ Rooney, David (January 25, 2019). "'The Farewell': Film Review | Sundance 2019". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  26. ^ Lemire, Christy (July 12, 2019). "The Farewell". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  27. ^ Lowry, Brian (July 12, 2019). "'The Farewell' shows off Awkwafina and finds truths in a lie". Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  28. ^ Dalton, Ben (June 3, 2019). "Lulu Wang's 'The Farewell' wins Sundance London 2019 audience award". ScreenDaily. Retrieved August 9, 2019.

External links[edit]