Australian Council on Children and the Media

The Farewell

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Not recommended under 12, parental guidance recommended to 13 (Adult themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for The Farewell
  • a review of The Farewell completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 9 September 2019.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 12 Not recommended due to adult themes.
Children aged 12-13 Parental guidance recommended due to adult themes.
Children over the age of 13 Ok for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: The Farewell
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild themes and occasional coarse language
Length 100 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The Farewell is a drama comedy by Asian-American writer/director Lulu Wang. Living in New York, aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi (Awkwafina) maintains a close relationship with her Nai Nai (a term used to mean 'paternal grandmother' in Mandarin, played by Shuzhen Zhao) who lives in China. After receiving a rejection letter for a Guggenheim Fellowship, Billi learns from her parents that her beloved Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and only a few months to live. Billi is devastated by this news and becomes conflicted when she discovers the family is keeping the diagnosis secret from her Nai Nai. A hastily arranged wedding for Billi's cousin, Hao Hao (Han Chen) from Japan, has been planned in China as an excuse to unite the family together and spend what is expected to be one last time with Nai Nai. Billi’s father Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and her mother Jian (Diana Lin) fear that Billi will end up exposing the lie directly to her grandmother, so they tell her to stay behind in New York City.

Ignoring her parents' orders, Billi flies to Changchun. Although she assures her parents that she won't reveal the cancer diagnosis to Nai Nai, Billi shares her conflicted thoughts over the deliberate lying to her grandmother with the rest of the family, including Nai Nai’s doctor. Billi’s uncle explains that the lie allows the family to bear the emotional burden of the diagnosis, rather than Nai Nai herself and Billi later learns that Nai Nai told a similar lie to her husband when he was terminally ill.

Funny situations resulting from the wedding preparations lighten the underlying sadness of the family reunion. During the wedding reception, family members 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. The family maintain the lie and share their tearful goodbyes with Nai Nai before returning to their homes in Japan and America.

Parents should know that the film is predominantly in Mandarin with English subtitles used throughout.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Serious illness; drug and alcohol use; Grief

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Billi’s mother pushes Billi on the shoulder to hasten her to set the table for dinner, however, the push is seen as loving.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • ‘Cupping’ marks/bruises from a spa treatment on Billi’s back may confuse and/or frighten young viewers.
  • Intense crying by women at a funeral may scare or upset young viewers.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • The beloved grandmother is diagnosed with a terminal illness and family members are frequently visibly upset at the news.
  • Hospital scenes showing the grandmother having an MRI and X-ray, accompanied by intense sombre music, may upset young viewers.
  • Scenes depicting the family arguments/discussions about the impending death of the mother/grandmother and whether they should tell her of her terminal diagnosis.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Nothing of additional concern

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

  • Nothing of additional concern.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • A tween boy rarely looks up from his iPhone
  • VW logo is seen on a car

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • When hearing news of a newly engaged couple who have only been together three months, Billi says jokingly, “do you think he knocked her up?”
  • The grandmother makes a joke about what goes on “in the bedroom” between the newly engage couple.
  • The grandmother tries to help her granddaughter find a love connection with her doctor, asking if he is single.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Billi removes her shirt revealing her bare back which is covered with bruises from her ‘cupping’ treatment.
  • A woman removed her intoxicated husband’s pants so that he is able to go to sleep. He is shown lying down in a singlet and underwear.
  • Men playing poker in a hotel room are surrounded by women who appear to be prostitutes.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Adults are frequently shown smoking throughout the film. Two men are shown smoking at the table at the wedding reception. Billi’s father is shown smoking at the cemetery as an ‘offering’ to his father who also smoked. Billi’s dad and uncle are shown drinking and smoking together.
  • Adults are shown drinking alcohol throughout the film.
  • Throughout the film references are made to Billi’s father having a drinking problem in the past. Billi and her mother try to convince her father not to drink but are unsuccessful. Billi’s father is shown drunk, evidenced by him slurring his words and struggling to walk straight and upright.
  • A woman says that excessive drinking can lead to a fatty liver.
  • A drinking game is shown during the wedding reception as a bonding moment for a family.
  • A cloud of cigarette smoke is shown as characters walk through the streets of China.
  • There is a discussion about having the right kind of alcohol at the wedding. At the wedding the groom drinks a lot of alcohol and becomes visibly upset and overwhelmed.
  • Billi walks past a hotel room and sees men playing poker and smoking.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Shit
  • “Stupid Child” is used frequently by Billi’s grandmother, however it is used lovingly.

In a nutshell

The Farewell is a thought-provoking drama, based on a true story, shedding light on the differences between Eastern and Western cultural values, particularly the role of family. The movie is predominantly in Mandarin with English subtitles, therefore younger viewers may find it difficult to follow the story line. Although rated PG, the sombre themes of serious illness and grief make this movie more appropriate for children 12 years and up.

The main messages from this movie are the importance of having tolerance for cultural differences, the importance of family, and being proud of who you are and where you come from.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • The importance of family
  • Self-control
  • Trust and love
  • Chinese value of sharing emotional burdens, and working towards the collective good

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as.

  • Alcoholism and the effects that excessive drinking can have on one’s health.
  • The negative effects of smoking on one’s health.
  • Whether telling a lie for the collective good justifies its use. In the movie, Eastern culture depicts the lie as ‘good’ as it serves to protect a family member from the emotional burden of a terminal illness diagnosis.

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