'As soon as I finished watching The Farewell, I knew I wanted to re-watch it with my mum.'

One of the best films of 2019 isn’t some Marvel blockbuster, or a cheesy romantic comedy, but a humble, poignant and comedic drama called The Farewell.

It’s also loosely based on a heartwarming, yet ridiculous true story.

The film follows Billi (Awkwafina), an American-Chinese millennial who finds out her beloved grandmother (Zhao Shuzen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She’s devastated by her Nai Nai’s (Chinese for grandmother) three-month prognosis, but even more shocked by her family’s decision to keep this information hidden from Nai Nai. It’s a decision that Billi – and we, as a Western audience – just can’t comprehend.

Instead, the family fly to China and orchestrate a wedding between Billi’s cousin and his short-term girlfriend, with Nai Nai eagerly flexing her matriarchal muscles by taking control of the preparation. Although she’s told not to come, Billi books a flight with her credit card and goes anyway, where she – as expected – struggles to keep her family’s decision a secret.

Watch the trailer for The Farewell. Post continues below.

Born in Beijing, but educated in Florida, The Farewell’s director, Lulu Wang gently explores the cultural divide between Eastern and Western attitudes to family, death and personhood with well-meaning jabs made at both sides.

While the film might feel foreign in its setting, the multi-generational love shared between Billi and her grandmother is universal.

Nai Nai is delightfully dedicated to her grandmotherly duties, doting on her grandchildren (Billi especially) and ensuring they’re constantly fed and looked after.

At one point, Nai Nai is admitted to hospital due to a coughing fit, however upon discovering that her doctor is single, she immediately tries to set him up with Billi – a situation any grandchild of pushy relatives knows very well.


Awkwafina’s performance is also a highlight. Coming to fame through self-deprecating roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Oceans 8, this is her most demure and sombre role to date, but she adeptly blends the sensitivity of the subject matter with her finely-tuned comedic timing.


View this post on Instagram


@thefarewell comes out today!!#callyourgrandma @a24 ????: @casi.moss

A post shared by AWKWAFINA (@awkwafina) on

Whether or not you agree with the cultural tactic of not telling your loved ones they’re dying, a practice that is continued in some Chinese families today, it’s technically worked for Lulu’s family. The movie is loosely based on her own grandma’s terminal diagnosis, and six years on, she’s still alive.

Appearing on The Project with her mum, Diana Lin, Lulu said she no longer questions her family’s decision.

“I’ve learnt better. I know better than to ask those things,” she told the panel. “Everyone still tells me that she still doesn’t know, and we can’t tell her.”

Giving context to their family’s long-running secret, Diane, who also plays Billi’s mum in the film, explained the reasoning behind their decision.

“We believe that when people really know they’re not going to last, they die,” she said. “If you have a positive mind then you’ll be okay, then you’ll be fine. People die of the fear.”



View this post on Instagram


Lil Nai Nai came all the way from Changchun for the NYC Premiere of #TheFarewell last night. ???????????????? Opens NY/LA this Friday!

A post shared by The Farewell (@thefarewell) on

Despite what you might think of the film given its somber plot, The Farewell is as funny as it is touching and poignant.

In many ways, it’s the cinematic equivalent of having a chat with your grandparents. A little might get lost in translation, whether that’s due to cultural or generational hurdles, but the important bits are communicated with love and affection.

Like Billi’s, my extended family live in China, and since watching the film I treasure phone calls with my grandpa (my only remaining grandparent) so much more.

You’ll definitely laugh, maybe even cry (I did), and once the credits roll, you’ll be itching to call your grandparents, should you be lucky enough to still have them with you.

The Farewell will released into cinemas from Thursday, September 5.

Sign up for our weekly “TV and Movies” newsletter. Every week, our Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik gives you a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews.