The Farewell (2019 film)

The Farewell
The Farewell poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lulu Wang
Produced by
Screenplay by Lulu Wang
Based on What You Don't Know
by Lulu Wang[1]
Music by Alex Weston
Cinematography Anna Franquesa Solano
Edited by
  • Ray Productions
  • Big Beach
  • Depth of Field
  • Kindred Spirit
Distributed by A24
Release date
  • January 25, 2019 (2019-01-25) (Sundance)
  • July 12, 2019 (2019-07-12) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Budget $3 million[2]
Box office $22.1 million[3]

The Farewell (Chinese: 别告诉她; pinyin: bié gàosù tā, meaning "Don't Let Her Know" or "Don't Tell Her")[4] is a 2019 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Lulu Wang. It stars Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, and Jiang Yongbo. The film follows a Chinese-American family who, upon learning their grandmother has only a short while left to live, decide not to tell her and schedule a family gathering before she dies.

The film is based in part on director Wang's life experiences, which she first publicly discussed as part of her radio story What You Don't Know, which appeared as part of an episode of This American Life. The film was screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival[5] and was theatrically released in the United States on July 12, 2019, by A24. It received acclaim from critics, with particular praise for Wang's screenplay and the performances of Awkwafina & Zhao Shuzhen. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards the film was nominated for two awards including Best Foreign Language Film, with Awkwafina winning for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy.


Aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi, maintains a close relationship with Nai Nai (paternal grandmother) who lives in Changchun, China. After receiving a rejection letter for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Billi discovers from her parents, Haiyan and Jian, that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and is predicted to have only a few months left to live.

Through deception and manipulation of medical test results, the diagnosis is kept a secret from Nai Nai herself. Nai Nai is, instead, falsely told that her recent doctor visits have only revealed benign findings. A wedding for Billi's cousin, Hao Hao, from Japan has been planned in China, as an excuse to unite the family to spend what is expected to be one last time with Nai Nai. Fearing Billi will end up exposing the lie to her grandmother, Haiyan and Jian tell her to remain in New York City.

Billi disobeys her parents' orders and flies to Changchun, shortly after the rest of the family arrive there. Billi assures her parents that she will not reveal the cancer diagnosis to Nai Nai. Throughout the trip, however, she clashes with the rest of the family, including the doctor treating her grandmother, over their deliberate dishonesty towards her grandmother.

Guilt-ridden, Billi expresses conflicted thoughts with her parents over the Chinese cultural beliefs that result in a family refusing to disclose such a life-threatening disease with the matriarch. One night, her uncle, Haibin, contends that the lie allows the family to bear the emotional burden of the diagnosis, rather than Nai Nai herself—a practice of collectivism that Haibin acknowledges to Billi differs from the individualistic values common in Western culture. Billi later learns that Nai Nai also told a similar lie to her husband up until his death when he was terminally ill.

On the day of the wedding, both Haibin and Hao Hao break down in tears on separate occasions but manage to proceed through the rest of the banquet as planned without raising Nai Nai's suspicions. To maintain the family lie, Billi intercepts Nai Nai's medical test results from the hospital and has it altered to reflect a clean bill of health. That night, Nai Nai gives Billi a hóngbāo, encouraging her to spend the money as she chooses. Billi admits that she wants to stay in Changchun to spend more time with Nai Nai, but Nai Nai declines, telling her that she needs to live her own life. When Billi reveals to her grandmother about the Guggenheim Fellowship rejection, Nai Nai responds by encouraging Billi to keep an open mind and not get hung up on this failure, rather than be "the bull endlessly ramming its horns into the corner of the room." She also says that life is not about what the things she does, but more so about how she goes about doing them.

Billi keeps her promise to maintain the lie and shares a tearful goodbye with Nai Nai, as the rest of the visiting family members return to their homes in Japan and America. The credits reveal that six years after her diagnosis, the woman Nai Nai's character was based on is still alive.


  • Awkwafina as Billi Wang (Chinese: 王比莉)
  • Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang (王海燕), Billi's father
  • Diana Lin as Lu Jian (陆建), Billi's mother
  • Zhao Shu-zhen as Nai Nai (奶奶), Billi's paternal grandmother
  • Lu Hong (playing herself) as Little Nai Nai, Billi's grandmother's younger sister
  • Jiang Yongbo as Haibin (海滨), Haiyan's older brother
  • Chen Han as Hao Hao (浩浩), Haibin's son
  • Aoi Mizuhara as Aiko (Japanese: 爱子), Hao Hao's Japanese fiancée
  • Zhang Jing as Yuping, Haiyan's cousin
  • Li Xiang as Aunty Ling, Haibin's wife
  • Yang Xuejian as Mr. Li
  • Jim Liu as Dr. Song


The film was based on a story called What You Don't Know that was initially shared by Wang on This American Life in April 2016.[1][6] Wang said that the film was based on her grandmother's illness, stating that "I always felt the divide in my relationship to my family versus my relationship to my classmates and to my colleagues and to the world that I inhabit. That's just the nature of being an immigrant and straddling two cultures."[7]

The film was primarily shot in Changchun, China, over the course of 24 days in June 2018.[8][9] Filming also took place in New York.[10] In an interview with Filmmaker, cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano stated that the references for the film included Force Majeure and Still Walking.[10] However, she added that her main source of inspiration came from "spending time with Lulu's family at their home in Changchun, during pre-production."[10]

Director Lulu Wang says that she kept the secret from her grandmother during and after film production. It was awkward to keep the secret when the grandmother visited the filming, a block from her home. Wang claims her grandmother eventually found out from discussing the movie with her little sister, who plays herself in the movie.[11]


The film had its premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2019.[12] In January 2019, A24 acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film for $7 million, over Netflix, Amazon Studios, and Fox Searchlight.[12][13] It was released in the United States on July 12, 2019.[14] A fully Mandarin-subtitled version of the film played in select theaters on September 8, 2019.[15]


Box office

In its opening weekend the film made $355,662 from four theaters for an average of $88,916 per venue; at the time, it was the best average of 2019, besting Avengers: Endgame's $76,601.[16] It expanded to 35 theaters in its second weekend and earned $1.14 million,[17] then made $1.5 million from 135 theaters in its third.[18] It continued to expand in the following weeks, making $2.4 million from 426 theaters and then $2.2 million from 705 theaters.[19][20] The film expanded further to over 800 theaters in the next few weeks, $1.4 million from 861 theaters, $882,623 from 816 theaters and $841,414 from 891 theaters.[21][22]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98%, with an average rating of 8.55/10, based on 314 reviews. The website's critics' consensus reads: "The Farewell deftly captures complicated family dynamics with a poignant, well-acted drama that marries cultural specificity with universally relatable themes."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 89 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[24]

Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film an A− grade and praised Awkwafina's performance, writing, "As a Chinese-American grappling with the traditionalism of her past and its impact on the future, she's an absorbing engine for the movie's introspective look at a most unusual family reunion."[25] Christy Lemire writing for gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, saying Zhao Shuzhen is "the most frequent source of laughs", but went on to say that "as delightful as [Zhao] is in this crucial, central role, she will also quietly rip your heart out by the film's end".[26] Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote, "Wang movingly tells not just a story about the negotiations of familial love, but also of the immigrant experience, of revisiting one's homeland to, in some senses, say goodbye to it."[27] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter commented, "its moments of sweet sentimentality are fully earned and heartfelt."[28] Brian Lowry of described it as a "small, melancholy movie that explores cultural differences and dealing with death in an utterly charming, understated manner."[29]

Critics commented on the film's depiction of the differences between western and Chinese family values.[30] Jingan Young wrote that "The family’s decision to tell a “good lie” is a metaphor for the collective delusion of living under the Chinese Communist party. Billi’s guilt at harbouring this secret is beautifully reflected in the plastic-facade setting of Changchun – the seedy hotels, outdated banqueting halls and concrete tower blocks built next to smoggy highways suggests this “performance” will eventually eat away at one’s soul."[30][31]

Former United States President Barack Obama named The Farewell among his favorite films and television series of 2019. In his annual list of favorite films, which he released on Twitter on December 29, 2019.[32]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
2020 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Musical or Comedy Awkwafina Won [33]
Best Foreign Language Film The Farewell Nominated
2020 British Academy Film Awards Best Film Not in the English Language Lulu Wang and Daniele Melia Nominated [34]
2020 Critics' Choice Awards Best Actress Awkwafina Nominated [35]
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay The Farewell Nominated
Best Comedy The Farewell Nominated
2020 Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Lulu Wang Won [36]
Best Supporting Female Zhao Shuzhen Won
2019 Gotham Awards Best Feature The Farewell Nominated [37]
Best Actress Awkwafina Won
Best Screenplay Lulu Wang Nominated
2019 Sundance London Audience Favourite The Farewell Won [38]
2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival Directors to Watch Lulu Wang Won [39]
2020 Santa Barbara International Film Festival Virtuoso Award Awkwafina Won
2019 Rome Film Festival BNL People's Choice Award The Farewell Nominated [40]
2019 National Board of Review Top 10 Independent Films The Farewell Won [41]
2019 American Film Institute Awards AFI Movies of the Year The Farewell Won [42]
2020 Casting Society of America Feature – Comedy Leslie Woo Nominated [43]
2020 Hollywood Critics Association Awards Best Picture The Farewell Nominated [44]
Best Actress Awkwafina Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay The Farewell Nominated
Best Female Director Lulu Wang Nominated
Independent Film The Farewell Won
Foreign Language Film The Farewell Nominated
2019 Chicago Film Critics Association Most Promising Filmmaker Lulu Wang Won [39]
Best Foreign Film The Farewell Nominated
Best Actress Awkwafina Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Lulu Wang Nominated
2019 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards Best Ensemble The Farewell Nominated [45]
Breakthrough Lulu Wang Nominated
2019 San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Awkwafina Nominated [46]
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Won
Best Foreign Language Film The Farewell Nominated
2020 Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Picture The Farewell Nominated [47]
Best Actress Awkwafina Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Won
Best Director Lulu Wang Nominated
Best Screenplay The Farewell Nominated
2019 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen runner-up [48]
2019 Satellite Awards Best Actress – Comedy or Musical Awkwafina Won [49]
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Comedy The Farewell Nominated
Best Original Screenplay The Farewell Nominated
2019 Atlanta Film Festival Audience Award – Feature Film The Farewell Won [50]
2019 Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Award The Farewell Won [51]
2019 Seminci Youth Jury The Farewell Won [52]
2020 AACTA Awards Best International Actress Awkwafina Nominated [53]
2020 AARP Movies For Grownups Best Picture The Farewell Nominated [54]
Best Supporting Actress Zhao Shuzhen Nominated
Best Intergenerational The Farewell Won
Best Foreign Language Film The Farewell Nominated
2020 Cinema for Peace Most Valuable Film of 2020 The Farewell Nominated [55]


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External links