Aug 07

“The Farewell”: When Lying Is Considered Good

“Based on AN ACTUAL LIE” (announced at start of The Farewell)

“…’a good lie,’ in the doctor’s words…” Peter Debruge, Variety

“According to Chinese custom, it’s the kinder way…” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Director Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell is for real based on a true story about a lie—a true story she’d previously told on NPR‘s This American Life and which she’d called “In Defense of Ignorance.”

Christy Lemire,, sets up this low-key (slowish) film’s premise about a grandmother who is dying:

…(T)he family decided not to tell their matriarch to protect her and prevent her from living in fear throughout her remaining days. Instead, they planned a lavish wedding as an excuse to bring everyone together one last time…

In sharing her story with us, Wang achieves a masterful tonal balance… She’s made a film about death that’s light on its feet and never mawkish. She’s told a story about cultural clashes without ever leaning on wacky stereotypes or lazy clichés. She finds a variety of moments for her actors to shine within a large ensemble cast…

Watch the trailer below for The Farewell, starring Awkwafina as Billi. She and her parents—Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and Jian (Diana Lin)—make their home in New York. They travel to China to spend precious time with her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen).

States Inkoo Kang, Slate, comparing The Farewell to a highly popular Asian-focused film of 2018: “If last year’s Crazy Rich Asians was an affirmation of Asian American identity as distinct from the cultures of the Old World, The Farewell focuses on Billi’s diaspora blues, of not feeling entirely at home in either Asia or America.”

The “weighty theme,” according to Anthony Lane, New Yorker, is “To whom do we owe our existence, especially as it draws to a close? Whose death is it, anyway?”

Selected Reviews

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “Wang turns her frustration and bewilderment into a gentle exploration of the cultural differences and generational schisms that have, over the years, opened up within Nai Nai’s extended family.

Emily Yoshida, New York Magazine/Vulture: “The little dramas and themes that emerge during the reunion of the film’s far-flung brood become, like a family, more than the sum of its individual parts, and an incredibly satisfying meal of a film.”

Brian Lowry, CNN: “By the end, which is probably the film’s weakest part, much of the audience will no doubt be internally debating where they stand on the whole ‘Tell them/don’t’ debate, as well as thinking about reaching out to an elderly relative who might be overdue for a call.”