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Parents' Guide to

The Farewell

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 11+

Awkwafina shines in excellent dramedy about family, culture.

Movie PG 2019 98 minutes
The Farewell Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 11+

Based on 9 parent reviews

age 11+

Comedy in a time of family despair that offers some interesting cultural lessons.

I liked the movie. I took my kids and think it is a good movie for other kids to watch, with a slight caveat. The film tells the story of a 'Good Lie'--a family concocting a story to get everyone together one last time before the grandmother who is suffering from cancer passes away. In bringing back the children and grandchildren and extended ‘aunties’ and others, the family is reunited and able to deal with their grief, together, but still doing everything they can to not let the grandmother know of her diagnosis. This leads to some complicated but funny moments, along with plenty of family-style awkwardness that is good for a laugh. Set in China, with Chinese values of family and togetherness, it’s a good cross-cultural lesson frequently displaying the Americanized Chinese view portrayed by the lead Awkwafina (who was great by the way) against her relatives and others who remained in Asia. The plot may seem a bit far fetched for many Western viewers. In fact, for many the idea of a family or a doctor withholding information about a medical condition is simply unfathomable. Besides being unethical, it’s illegal in many places and goes against the relationship of trust necessary between a doctor and patient. But in other cultures, the needs of the ‘family’ as a unit and the role that each member plays in ‘shouldering the emotional burden’ are important. The movie does a good job trying to explain this difference in many different points of the film and it’s an interesting lesson for children to learn about how other cultures deal with grief. My caveat for children is two-fold: one, there is an elephant in the room such that anytime you see a character laughing or smiling, you can see them instantly remember why they are there and drop back into a more somber state. Let’s not forget the film is about a grandmother about to die. This can be a bit of a downer for some kids expecting carefree humor and laughter. My second caveat is for younger children as this movie is about a lie, a falsehood, a deception and the characters in the film go out of their way to defend lying. There are countless scenes of small white lies throughout the movie (‘Yes I’m wearing a hat’ when they aren’t—‘I’m at a friends house’ when they are in the hospital, etc) not to mention the basic plot point about lying to their grandmother about her health. For a very small child, i.e. under 10 who still has a black / white sort of ‘all lies are bad’ opinion this film is going to really turn that on their head. This will likely lead to a conversation of when you should tell the truth and when you shouldn’t say something with total honesty. For some younger kids, these differences are still too subtle and this may be difficult for them to comprehend. But that said, I still feel it was worthwhile for my family to see. We had conversations about the differences in culture and the reason they concocted the story. The film created engagement and discussion amongst our family, which is always a positive thing. Gave it four stars and recommend for kids over about 11. Oh, one other note: The story is based in China and much of it is in Mandarin Chinese, which means younger kids are going to have to read the subtitles to keep up. My own kids, who have had some Mandarin in school, reported that they were actually able to understand quite a bit of the dialogue as it wasn’t overly complicated words or phrases. If your kids have studied Chinese they may find this a bit of a fun challenge.
1 person found this helpful.
age 11+

The Farwell - Do You Tell Them or keep it Secret?

Do you tell them or keep it secret? Spoiler Free Writer/director Lulu Wang’s first feature is about as good as it gets for a debut, especially one based on emotional situations involving her family. She captures the divide I suspect many immigrants must experience when settling in a new country and identifying with a new culture. In some ways, it might have been good for her to play herself in the lead. But then, with being a first attempt at feature movie making and a project as personally involving as this, I agree, that would have been a hefty call. Her cast is marvelous, with each delivering perfect characterizations to the somewhat demanding situations they bring to life. It’s billed as a comedy (I figure mainly for the sales angle) and while there’s a good degree of ironic humor, I seemed to spend more time with watery eyes. Her director of photography, Spanish-born Anna Franquesa Solano delivers highly professional steady images, for what appears to be only her second feature and it's a welcome relief from the clumsy wobble cam so often found in Indi shows. Perhaps it’s a little longish at 1h40m and might have done with less of the slow-mo (although some of this is emotionally strong) Composer Alex Weston provides a thoughtful score and the careful selection of additional accompanying songs is superb, all helping to create a warm feel to proceedings. It’s to be hoped we see more quality features from this talented young woman, and that she may resist the temptation to throw it away on lowly commercial features – she certainly has proven that independent stories can out-gross even the big budget productions. The DVD features extras and is nicely transferred, although the white subtitles would have benefitted from an added black drop-shadow (and yes, one of the deleted scenes should not have even been considered for the final script, a good decision by whoever made it) Above Average. It makes you wonder what the Chinese didn't like about this movie (but can guess)

This title has:

Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (9 ):
Kids say (7 ):

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.

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