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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Farewell is a thought-provoking dramedy starring Awkwafina about a Chinese family that's dealing with a loved one's impending death. The film sheds light on the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies of life, particularly in the way that family members interact -- but, more than that, it truly enhances understanding of Chinese life, beliefs, and traditions. It's mostly in Mandarin with English subtitles, though the words are fairly simple because several relatives don't know Chinese well (which makes it a great pick for anyone learning Mandarin who wants to strengthen their skills). Although it's rated PG, the themes and content are more appropriate for older tweens and up. "S--t" is used once, and there's quite a bit of smoking and drinking, leading up to a booze-fest of a wedding, during which the family bonds over drinking games. Some characters communicate a value of money over happiness, and references are made to gambling (which is seen in a seedy, smoke-filled room). Themes include compassion, empathy, and self-control.
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The film tells the story of a 'Good Lie... Continue reading
What's the story?
"Based on an actual lie," THE FAREWELL follows Billi (Awkwafina), a young Chinese American woman who learns that her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), has cancer -- and only a few weeks left to live. Billi is further shocked to find out that her extended family has vowed to keep Nai Nai in the dark about her diagnosis, creating the ruse of a wedding as an excuse for them to gather to see her one last time. As the family comes together in Changchun, Billi struggles with Eastern vs. Western philosophies of how to live life.
Is it any good?
This is a simple but genius film that sheds light on Chinese culture and philosophy while delivering a doozy of a paradigm shift. By telling The Farewell's story through the eyes of a Chinese-born girl who was raised in the United States and is now returning to her homeland, writer-director Lulu Wang allows Western audiences to empathize with Billi's complex feelings about unfamiliar Chinese traditions and attitudes. But as Billi begins to absorb the benefits of the Chinese perspective, it will hopefully also dawn on Western viewers that their way isn't the only one.
Popcorn movies are great, but the opportunity to introduce true understanding and talk about cultural values with our children is a rare occurrence. Since most of The Farewell is subtitled, kids will have to do some reading -- but with the funny, relatable Awkwafina front and center, the language gap isn't too overwhelming. And it's definitely worth the effort. Honesty, compassion, and empathy are traits that many Americans prioritize instilling in their children, but Wang brilliantly challenges Western views by presenting an opposing way of interacting, letting viewers chew on what's "right" and what's "wrong." The film's final moment is a philosophical explosion, and the audience's reaction is the sound of minds being blown.
Talk to your kids about ...
The film sets up a stand-off between integrity and compassion. Do you think the family lacks integrity? Do you think there's such a thing as a "good lie"? At what point, if any, do you think they crossed a line and were acting unethically? Given the final moment of the film, did your opinion change?
Talk about the idea that in Western culture, people see themselves as individuals, whereas in Eastern culture, people are perceived as part of the whole. Do you agree? What does that mean? What are some examples?
Why is it notable that the film features a nearly all-Asian cast and was directed by an Asian American woman? Why does representation matter in movies, TV, and books?
How do the characters handle grief? Do you think that if someone doesn't cry over the death of a loved one, it means they don't care? Why do we expect that?
- In theaters: July 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 12, 2019
- Cast: Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Diana Lin
- Director: Lulu Wang
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Self-control
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, brief language and some smoking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection, Golden Globe
- Last updated: January 25, 2020
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