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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Farewell

Adorable and Pure


By the time I was lucky enough to see The Farewell in theaters, it had been released for so long, it didn’t make sense to me to do a review at that time. The Farewell has now been nominated for 7 Hollywood Critics Association Awards, 2 Independent Spirit Awards and it won the Audience Favourite at Sundance. I think now’s as good a time as any to share my thoughts on this lovely film about love with you all.


Aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi (Awkwafina) discovers that her Nai Nai (Grandmother in Mandarin Portrayed By Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and has only a few months to live. The diagnosis is kept a secret from Nai Nai as it is Chinese custom not to disclose to the family matriarchs of their impending death. Billi flies to Changchun where the entire family has planned a wedding for Billi’s cousin as an excuse to unite them with what is expected to be one last time with Nai Nai. Throughout Billi’s time back in China, she comes to terms with homesickness she never expressed, parts of her culture she never knew about and the thought of life without Nai Nai.


Awkwafina’s performance explodes with emotional radiance and cultural beauty. She dissolves into Billi like salt dissolving into the snow to make it less slippery. Billi wants to fit in and she feels very much out of place upon arriving back in China. She tries to understand things from her family’s point of view but alone time with Nai Nai only makes this harder. Zhao Shuzhen is The Farewell’s comic relief and she excels in her portrayal as a grandmother so full of warmth. Nai Nai is adorable, energetic, hilarious, feisty, kind and wise.


Everyone else is silently mourning her scheduled demise while she’s comically having a blast. She’s planning the wedding as though she’s the one getting married, she treats Billi to spa massages and she feasts on those hot Chinese dumplings she’s so fond of. The way she eats, it’s as though she’s feeding a baby bird. She’s like a funny little princess. It takes no time to understand why Billi loves her so much and why the thought of her death is just eating her alive. By the time, Billi breaks down in tears to her parents, we as an audience are so invested in Nai Nai, we feel like we’re about to lose her too.


Alex Weston’s score enriches the cultural atmosphere of The Farewell and writer/director Lulu Wang’s script is filled with pure everlasting quality. The Farewell has its emotional moments but it is a comedy. It’s a beautiful family film about culture, community, the pride of where you come from and love. The Farewell is a ripe piece of fruit you’ll want to sink your teeth into again and again. Honest films like The Farewell are what diversity is all about.

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