“Based on an actual lie,” Lulu Wang’s The Farewell lifts events from her own complicated family history into the filmic sphere. In this captivating sophomore feature, a Chinese family’s grand matriarch gets a terminal diagnosis, and they choose to hide it from her. Then Billi—her Chinese-American granddaughter and family black-sheep—rejects the family’s decision, and shows up unannounced in China. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue.
Lulu Wang’s first-feature-farce, Posthumous, was released by the Orchard in 2014. Along with other honors, this classical pianist-turned-celebrated-filmmaker received the 2014 Chaz and Roger Ebert Directing Fellowship from the Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Wang’s lead, Awkwafina, also comes from a musical background—you may recognize her nom-de-star from her recent blockbuster turns in Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Here, as Billi, she brings her startling sucker punch humor to the table, as well as impressive dramatic chops. It’s her performance—along with Wang’s sensitive touch—that grounds the film in authenticity: as we follow Billi through homogenized Chinese architecture and anxiety-inducing family dinners, we relate.
Beyond Awkwafina, Diana Lin—a Chinese actress known overseas for actioner Feng liu jing cha wang and Shang jie—plays the resolute motherly presence that won’t succumb to Billi’s pleas. More than anyone else, Lin’s character bears the brunt of the emotional baggage from her mom’s diagnosis; she’s the misunderstood captain going down with her own ship. Her complicated relationship with Billi must come to a head before the film is over.
Look below for our interviews with the director and cast at the Sundance premiere.