Farewell, The: Small Indie That Could

The Farewell world premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Fest.

Released theatrically on July 12 by A24, the film proves to be a commercial success, earning to date over 7 million at the domestic box-office.

The film is also a critical success, with many reviewers praising Wang’s storytelling skills and Awkwafina’s lead performance as Billi.

Billi (played by Awkwafina) and members of her extended family take turns plucking off morsels from shared family-style platters while debating the merits of growing up in the U.S. versus China.

Billi’s father (Tzi Ma) recalls one story from Billi’s childhood in the U.S.: after the family immigrated there, a stranger gave them the key to a church so she could practice on its piano, as they did not yet have one of their own.

The movie draws on many anecdotes from writer-director Lulu Wang’s own life.

As in the film, Wang’s family didn’t tell her aging grandmother that she had stage-IV lung cancer and, instead, staged a wedding in northern China as the family’s goodbye to her.

The piano is particularly important to Wang and not just because she was once on track to becoming a concert pianist.  “The piano represents so much of my relationship to my family versus to my art and to my individuality,” Wang say.

Wang’s family moved to the U.S. from China when she was six.  Her mother always wanted to give her children the chance to learn an instrument and, after settling in Miami, would bring a young Lulu to a local church to practice.
“She did that, every single day. It became a huge sacrifice for her. When they had enough money, had a savings account, the first really expensive purchase they made was for me to have a piano,” Wang recalls.

Wang studied music and literature at Boston College but pivoted away from pursuing the piano full-time, a decision which upset her parents: “We’ve put too much into this, you can’t quit. And the older I got, they would go a more passive-aggressive way and say, ‘Oh, you can quit. Just throw away everything we’ve put into it.  So I’ve always had this troubled relationship with the piano, and I felt like for Billi, too, represented everything the family had done for her.”

In the movie, after her family’s criticizing her quitting the instrument, Billi sits down at a piano and deftly bangs out a solo piece.  The tension between family duty and individualism is explored in the movie/

The Farewell features Awkwafina in her first dramatic role. Wang, who knew her as the artist behind the song “My Vag,” was initially hesitant to cast the rapper-turned-actress in the role.

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