“The Farewell” is based on a true story, or “an actual lie” as the movie promotes. Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and has only six months left to live, but she doesn’t even know it. With her family keeping the news hidden from her, they plan a wedding for Nai Nai’s grandson as an excuse to bring the whole family together to be with Nai Nai one last time. While everyone is willing to go along with the lie, Nai Nai’s granddaughter, Billi (Awkwafina), hates the idea. As Nai Nai enjoys time with her family, Billi is left with a difficult choice, which is either tell her grandmother the unfortunate truth or continue the lie and enjoy her last visit with Nai Nai in blissful ignorance.
“The Farewell” is a comedy-drama that was first released at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Despite heavy competition, the film walked away with the Audience Award and a theatrical release. Now, keep in mind this is not a slapstick film with jokes around the clock, but it’s also not a dark comedy either. Although, that doesn’t mean it might not get too real for certain viewers, especially those who have dealt with cancer and how it affects their loved ones.
It’s rare when I get to do a foreign film, which means this is going to be a bit tricky to comment on. To begin, some readers may be wondering whether or not the film is in English or subtitled? Given that our main character Billi is living in America, there will be a few scenes with English dialogue. Throughout the bulk of the film, however, our characters are in Changchun, China. So most of the dialogue is spoken in Chinese with English subtitles.
I’m going to just come out and say it. Comedy-dramas are not my cup of tea, but “The Farewell” was worth seeing just for its in-depth look at how another culture handles the terrible news of cancer and the burden it can have on a family. As mentioned before, cancer is a sensitive topic to handle—especially in filmmaking—and true story or not, just seeing how the news impacts Nai Nai’s family and her being oblivious to it is what makes it so heartbreaking to watch.
Zhao Shuzhen’s portrayal of Nai Nai is absolutely heartwarming. A loving grandmother in China, who is over the moon being reunited with the family that separated across the globe. It’s made even more touching as we see her and Billi interact through the story. During the course of the movie something began to happen that I had not anticipated, something I have to applaud the film for. In the beginning, I was against the idea of withholding the information, but as I watched the movie play on, my views began to shift as I found myself asking one question: is blissful ignorance for the better when it comes to such a terrible situation? Whether you agree or disagree with the family’s plan, the film achieved something so few comedy-dramas can do, and that’s make you care enough that you start to question things. And that is an achievement in and of itself.
“The Farewell” is rated PG for thematic material, brief language, and some smoking. This is a fascinating look at how a family deals with the news of cancer from a foreign outlook. The humor itself is fine, though most of it comes from the dialogue and delivery of the actors—all of whom do a grand job. All in all, “The Farewell” is worth seeing for those who want to see a drama from another culture’s perspective. Which is more than enough to earn it a 7.5 out of 10.
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.