Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell tells the story of Billi, a Chinese-American artist who discovers that her grandmother is dying of cancer. Her initial distress intensifies when she realizes that her family has no intention to tell grandma about the diagnosis, although they do schedule a mock wedding so the family can have one big get-together to say goodbye.
In today’s day and age, movies like The Farewell are a miracle. When even movies based on hit franchises can’t get any traction with critics or the box office, The Farewell, which is continuing to expand in theaters this weekend, has found its place as one of the most emotionally powerful films of year. The film has achieved this success despite taking place mostly in a different language, having no explosions or action scenes, and with a cast devoid of household names (beyond Awkwafina, who is excellent here).
I had a chance to watch The Farewell at the Seattle International Film Festival last month and was fortunate enough to chat with Wang afterward. We talked about the style of the film, the challenges of the Chinese-American experience, and how the power of “no” got the film to where it is today.
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One of the most talked about and critically acclaimed films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and frequent Audience Award winner at several film festivals since January) is writer/director Lulu Wang’s sophomore feature The Farewell, with Awkwafina in her first starring role.
Based on an incident in her own family (the movie opens with the title care “Based on an actual lie”), The Farewell concerns a Chinese family who discovers that the matriarch, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), has terminal cancer and on a few months left to live. In keeping with a Chinese tradition, her family opts not to tell her of the seriousness of her illness, and instead arranges to have most of the extended family members come visit her to say their goodbyes under the guise of a rushed wedding. Awkwafina plays Billi, who moved to America with her parents (Diana Lin and Tzi Ma) when she was very young and thinks keeping the truth from Nai Nai is a mistake, so everyone suggests she not come to visit, lest she spill the beans on the big secret. But she does make the trip, and the film follows Billi’s journey back to the land of her birth, where she can toe the family line or bring her modern, Western sensibilities to the situation.
It’s a remarkable, sometimes very funny, always highly emotional work that is sure to make a great number best-of-the-year lists in 2019 thanks to exceptional performances by both seasoned actors and Wang’s own family members. /Film spoke with Wang recently in Chicago (where The Farewell played to a sold-out crowd at the Chicago Critics Film Festival) to discuss the real-life inspiration behind her film and the importance of using first-time actors in such an emotionally volatile film. The Farewell has a limited release on Friday, July 12, and expands nationwide throughout July.
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(This review originally ran during our coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The Farewell hits theaters on July 12, 2019.)
In 2018, rapper and actress Awkwafina broke out in a big way, delivering memorable turns in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Those two particular performances were indeed enjoyable and fun, but they also bordered on schtick – the actress was very much playing characters; individuals that felt cooked up primarily in the minds of screenwriters. In Lulu Wang‘s lovely, melancholy The Farewell, Awkwafina breaks out in a much bigger way with her first major role, creating a wholly realistic character, and revealing a talent for dramatic acting that you may not have realized she possessed. It’s an incredible performance.
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It’s not a comparison most would make, is it? After all, what could two movies that are seemingly as vehemently opposed as The Farewell and The Last Black Man in San Francisco possibly have in common? One is a story about a Chinese American woman dealing with her grandmother’s illness, and the other is an account of a young African American man attempting to reclaim a childhood home he can no longer afford.
As strange a pairing as these two A24 releases may seem at first glance, there’s a lot more shared idiosyncrasies than what meets the casual observer eye. At their core, both of these films are fish-out-of-water narratives in which white lies serve as the antidote to the terminal loss of home.
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After a rapturous reception at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell shot to the top of the most anticipated indies of the year and sold to A24 for a deal estimated between $6 million and $7 million. But it turns out that this wasn’t the only deal that Wang was considering. The filmmaker revealed that a “streaming company” counter-offered A24 with a deal that was “more than double” the amount that the beloved indie distributor was offering. But Wang ultimately turned them down.
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Believe it or not, the surreal nightmare that is 2019 is half over. As we head into the latter half of the year, it’s time to look back at the 10 best movies of 2019 so far. This year was off to a slow start, and some of the films on my list aren’t even out yet – I was lucky enough to catch them at the Sundance Film Festival. There are also a handful of currently playing films I’ve heard great things about, but have yet to see – The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Wild Rose. I’ll catch up with them before the year is out, but for now, here are the 10 movies that I enjoyed the most this year so far.
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We’ve officially hit the midpoint of 2019, and that means it’s time to take stock of the year’s best movies so far. This summer has been mostly unremarkable, with a few glimmers of greatness here and there, but thankfully, the rest of the year has offered some gems worth gushing about. Honestly though, most of the great movies this year, at least for my personal list, come courtesy of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and thankfully, they’ll be on the way to theaters soon enough.
Below, find out my list of the 10 best movies of 2019 so far. Read More »
One of the best films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival is arriving in theaters this summer. Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell is an honest, endearing, emotional dramadey featuring Awkwafina proving she can do a lot more than just comedy. The actress delivers a wonderful, and mostly dramatic, performance in this story of a Chinese-American returning to China to be close to her dying grandmother. But there’s a twist: the grandmother is unaware of her own diagnosis. Watch The Farewell trailer below.
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