If you marry someone that grew up in China, the odds favor that you will also be married to a Chinese family. When I married Anchee in 1999, I got a lot more than a wife. In China, I also was accepted by her family, her friends, and I started to learn about the country of her birth, its long history, and its culture, and I haven’t stopped learning. The only thing I haven’t learned is Mandarin, a tonal language where what sounds like one word can be four words depending on the tone. I’m not tone deaf. I enjoy listening to music, but I cannot tell the difference between the sounds needed to pronounce four different words that sound like they are one word.
I saw “The Farewell” alone on a Monday morning in an almost empty theater with two other people that sat higher up in what I call the bleachers. The film offered more than the drama of a Chinese family that discovers their beloved grandmother in China has a short time to live. Throughout the film, the Chinese family and their friends, and even the Japanese bride hide the doctor’s verdict from the grandmother.
To keep this secret, her two sons that haven’t been to China with their families for twenty-five years, use the excuse of a sudden engagement to bring family and friends together for this unexpected wedding before grandmother dies. One son lives in the United States, and his brother lives in Japan where his son has a Japanese girlfriend, the bride to be.
The lead character is Billi. She was six when her mother and father moved to the United States. When we first meet Billi, she is in her twenties and living alone in a postage-stamp-sized apartment in New York City. She can’t pay her rent, won’t ask her parents for financial help, and doesn’t want to move back home.
Billi played by Awkwafina, an actor that was born in New York City in 1988 as Nora Lum, grew up Chinese in the United States helping her understand the differences between the two cultures.
What I think made this film worth watching was witnessing Billi’s American individualism in conflict with China’s collective culture, until she remembers or learns, when in China, do as the Chinese do. By the way, the grandmother lives in an older building. Many residential buildings in China’s cities are newer looking and more modern than what I saw in this film unless the story took place before the 21st century.
Too bad, so many Americans are not interested in learning about other cultures. “The Farewell” opened July 12, 2019, and its total domestic lifetime gross to date is about $12.8 million. More Americans should see films like this one instead of cartoons like “Monsters, Inc.” that grossed almost $600 million.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.