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The Farewell

Based on an actual lie.

Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is a funny, moving, sensitively wrought dramedy based on a real-life episode from the writer/director’s own family history. Wang’s alter ego is Billi (Awkwafina), a young New Yorker who flies back to her Chinese hometown to attend a cousin’s wedding. The wedding is merely a pretext: Billi’s grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with lung cancer and has only months to live, and her family members have decided to keep the truth from her even as they gather around for one last reunion. The story is billed as being “based on an actual lie”, a sly phrase whose full ramifications aren't immediately apparent.

Poster for the family-reunion dramedy The FarewellThe Farewell is a remarkably cohesive ensemble movie; every member of the family gets a chance to shine, particularly Diana Lin and Tzi Ma as Billi’s parents, who initially seem hyper-critical and tradition-bound but reveal increasingly complicated moods, personal histories and emotions with every scene.

But the movie belongs to Awkwafina, giving a more subdued, emotionally layered performance than she did with her scene-stealing comic turn in Crazy Rich Asians. The Farewell (or ‘Crazy Middle-Class Asians’, as Wang described it during a Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival) has as much to say about familial obligation, generational conflict, cultural confusion and the immigrant experience. In its own modest, enormously appealing way, it feels like no less a representational breakthrough.

– Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

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