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Film Review: The Farewell (2019)

Disclaimer: As a British citizen, I am only able to get this review out four days early due to Cineworld’s early Unlimited screening of the film.

The Farewell (2019) is a American-Chinese drama from director and writer Lulu Wang. This film consists of a strong Asian cast, with Awkwafina leading after the success of Crazy Rich Asians last year. Other cast members include Shuzhen Zhao, Diana Lin and Tzi Ma. When Billi’s (Awkwafina) family discover that her grandmother (Zhao) is diagnosed with cancer, they make the hard decision to keep the illness from her, and instead set up a wedding as an excuse to all meet up and see her one last time.

The Farewell (2019) - source: A24
The Farewell (2019) – source: A24

This film has some of the best performances I have seen this year, and that is down to Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao both giving heartfelt yet subtle performances. Their roles are very complex, having to be subtle and trying to hide emotion, but also follow a developing and touching story. You fully believe that the grandmother is actually ill and coughing and spluttering, and it is hard to deliver a performance like that. Awkwafina shines in this film, and offers so many layers to Billi that makes you fall in love with her character.

The story itself is simple, but I am glad that it is simple in its presentation. This is a story that is impactful and is going to hit everyone who watches it in a certain way, and it is so beautifully told. What I really appreciated about the script of this film is how it presents even the smallest details in the most important matter, even down to the small talk at a family dining table. It is these small moments that flesh out the characters and create a compelling story overall.

As it is clear in the advertisement for this film, The Farewell deals with the subject of death and how different cultures, particularly China and the USA, cope with the news of potential death. Before this film, I had no prior knowledge of how death was dealt with in China, so this is actually quite an informative film as a fictional piece of work. The subject of death is dealt really sensitively here, but still hits really hard. Everyone has a different situation relating to death that is personal to them, so this film calls into that and asks the audience how they would react to the situation that Billi finds herself in. They do not pose one way or the other as the correct method, which is a smart way to go for a film of this type.

The Farewell (2019) - source: A24
The Farewell (2019) – source: A24

There is a great balance between Chinese and American culture here. I never found the language changes between Mandarin and English to be forced or unbalanced, and both sides were well balanced as well. I was also shocked about how much commentary there was on both cultures, particularly about the education and money system in both places. They still never present one as better than the other, but it is nice that this film does feel culturally relevant to today’s society.

This entire film works because of the family. Sure, Billy and her grandmother are the stars here, but it is nice to see the entire family here and how they all fit into the story. Billi’s father (Tzi Ma) has more of a smaller role in the dynamic, but he was also fantastic in his position of the debate that goes on throughout the story. I also loved the cousin, Hao Hao (Chen Han), as he seemed to fit the comedic role here and it was excellently done.

If I had to comment on something here that could have been improved, I would say that the pacing does feel a little bit off. There are slight moments that feel rushed, such as the hospital sequences and the intimate moments between Billi and her grandmother. I would have liked perhaps an extra ten minutes throughout to perhaps flesh out a few of the other family members and make those smaller moments even stronger narratively.

The Farewell (2019) - source: A24
The Farewell (2019) – source: A24

I know that there has been a lot of hype and love for this film coming out of the US and the other places that it has been shown, but believe the hype. This is a beautifully touching film that will impact every audience member one way or another. This film feels like required watching and it is the second A24 to crack in my top five of the year so far. Please go and check this film out immediately.


Have you been able to see The Farewell yet, or do you plan on going to see it this week? Did you love it just as much as me? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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