Ten minutes. Just ten minutes into “The Farewell” and tears rolled down my cheeks followed by the sniffles. The funny thing was I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why.
After the credits began to roll, I found myself pondering: why did this movie reach deep into my soul?
I had never watched a film that encapsulated my Chinese-American life- the food we eat, the traditions we follow, and the struggles we endure. There were moments that mirrored my own family’s. What’s even more telling? I didn’t know that other families had these moments or went through these struggles. Moments that I thought were unique to my family. Moments that are uniquely Chinese-American.
The character most relatable to the life of a Chinese-American millennial is Billi (played by Awkwafina). Growing up second-generation, Billi has several identity crises throughout the film. She is stuck between her own values and her family’s Chinese values. We see Billi struggle as the film tells the story of her Chinese-American family and their decision to not tell their grandmother she is dying.
Billi’s family structure is hierarchical, in which roles are determined by age. Younger family members show respect and deference to their elders- a structure valued in an Asian home. The film also portrays the collectivist thinking of a Chinese family. The family decides to not tell their grandmother she is dying because it would not be good for the family. What is good for them as individuals is not important.
The movie excellently compares this Chinese collective culture to American individualist culture. In many ways, we see that the Chinese-American family is somewhere in between.
In Asia, an individual sacrifices for the greater good of the group. In America, an individual works to advance their own interests. Chinese-American families like Billi’s must assimilate into western culture. However, they cannot forget the Chinese values that provide the family’s foundation.
Yes, we can debate the ethics of Billi’s family decision. But “The Farewell” reminds us of the best and worst parts of life. It reminds us to cherish the things that truly matter.
While telling us the story of one Chinese-American family, “The Farewell” shows us the universal themes of love, family, and trust and honesty.