Review: The Farewell

Tzi Ma, Shuzhen Zhao, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Hong Lu, Diana Lin, Awkwafina, and Yongbo Jiang in The Farewell

The Farewell passed me by while it was in theaters. I was delighted to see it pop up on Prime Video. This beautiful film is about a multi-generational Chinese family and their way of dealing with a cancer diagnosis for the beloved grandmother.

The Farewell earned Awkwafina a Golden Globe for Best Performance, and she completely deserved it. Awkwafina as Billi was American through and through. She spoke to her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) in China almost daily.

Billi and her parents Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and Lu Jian (Diana Lin) moved to America when Billi was six. They left behind all of their extended family. Billi was now 30, single, struggling, and just got word she’d been turned down for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The family got word that Nai Nai had terminal cancer. They weren’t going to tell her. They were all going to get together for a wedding as a way to see Nai Nai one more time. Billi had a hard time understanding why Nai Nai couldn’t know the truth. She was overwhelmed with sadness.

Shuzhen Zhao and Awkwafina in The Farewell

Billi went to China for the wedding, although her parents didn’t want her there. They were afraid she would tell Nai Nai the truth or her sadness would give her away. The family finally convinced Billi that keeping the secret was a sign of respect in Chinese culture. After some soul searching, she agreed to keep quiet.

Shuzhen Zhao, Hong Lu, and Awkwafina in The Farewell

Little Nai Nai (Hong Lu), Nai Nai’s younger sister, would be the one to tell her sister when the time came. In the meantime, they had a wedding. They had meals together and family time. They talked and strengthened relationships and loved each other.

The Chinese part of The Farewell was filmed in Changchun, China. The sights, the food, the streets and buildings – it was all authentic. I appreciated the location filming, the Chinese actors, the conversations in Mandarin that formed the majority of the story. I appreciated the warmth and love at the heart of this story. These kinds of healing family stories are so rare. Especially ones in which #EldersRock!

Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell was based on the real story of her grandmother. It was about things that matter – family, love, respect, sharing, and finding joy. If, like me, you missed this gentle gem in the theaters, I urge you to watch it now.

Poster for The Farewell

Here’s the trailer.

If you’ve already seen this one, I’d love to know what you thought of it.

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