“The Farewell” doesn’t say goodbye

“The Farewell” tells a heartfelt story that illustrates the concept of love and family, the ties between happiness and tragedy, and the clashes between different cultures. Written and directed by Lulu Wang, “The Farewell” is a semi-autobiographical family drama that is based on Wang’s story about her grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer. 

Billi is introduced to the viewer as she walks down a busy street in New York City, talking with her grandma, Nai Nai, over the phone in Americanized Chinese. Right away, the cultural differences between Nai Nai and Billi are demonstrated but despite this, her strong relationship with her grandma was made apparent from the beginning. 

When Billi is informed that her grandmother, Nai Nai, is diagnosed with cancer and only has three months to live, her whole family tries to prevent Billi from visiting her. Trying to lessen the trauma on the grandmother, the family decides to hide the diagnosis from her, and instead decide to host a fake wedding in their hometown as an excuse to see Nai Nai for the last time. Billi’s family, who lives in America, and her uncle’s family, who live in Japan, all fly in  for the fake wedding for Billi’s cousin in Changchun, Nai Nai’s hometown in China. The culture clash is evident when Billi disapproves of her family’s decision to not tell Nai Nai that she has cancer as she believes Nai Nai has a right to know so she can say her goodbyes. 

“Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die. But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear,” Billi’s mother tells Billi before flying to China. 

Before watching the movie, I had heard that the story would revolve around a family saying their goodbyes to their grandma and the struggles between American and Chinese culture. To be honest, I had expected the movie to have a rather plain storyline and be solely depressing. But after one hour and forty minutes, I sat on my couch astonished. The complexity of the characters and plotline, the layers of emotions and the realistic portrayal of a multicultural family all make this one of the best movies of 2019. 

The juxtaposition of the American and Chinese cultures was a common motif threaded throughout the story. The struggles between culture often brought awkward and uncomfortable moments for the family as their differing viewpoints came into conflict. In one scene, Billi’s mother got into an argument with her cousin who grew up in China. The conservative and communal values of China pitted against the values of individualism and freedom in America, the development of China’s society compared to the gun issues in America. However, despite the difficulties it brought among the family, it also brought moments of comedic relief. For example, Billi’s family burned a fake iPhone and lit a cigarette in front of Billi’s grandfather’s grave so he could have a phone and smoke in heaven.  

My favorite scene in the movie is Billi’s cousin’s wedding. All the struggles and differences among the family seemed to have vanished as they laughed together when playing a game and cried as they thanked Nai Nai for everything she had done for the family. 

“The Farewell” received many positive reviews, including a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 89% on Metacritic. The bitter-sweet story between Nai Nai and Billi makes it a perfect choice for a family movie night.

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