‘The Farewell’: Lulu Wang Made the Year’s Most Exciting Hit By Refusing to Americanize It

IndieWire | 7/18/2019 | Staff
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Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” is the most exciting hit movie of the summer, but its success wasn’t preordained. A24 acquired the movie out of Sundance, following raves for the complex look at an Asian American experience through the lens of a woman grappling with dueling cultural identities. When it opened in limited release July 12, it beat out “Avengers: Endgame” for the year’s biggest per-theater average. And it almost didn’t happen. For Wang, the fragmented experience facing her movie’s central character mirrored the filmmaker’s multi-year experience attempting to make “The Farewell,” and it only came together once she had all but given up on it.

There were many disheartening encounters with American financiers as she pitched the premise: a young woman’s family visits her ailing Chinese grandmother while keeping the matriarch in the dark about her illness. Many suggested that Wang introduce a prominent white character into the narrative, and punch up the nuanced drama to turn it into a broad comedy. But Wang felt her story didn’t need the token white character; it already had Billie, the young protagonist, whose experience in a large immigrant family was specific to the Asian American experience.

Disappointment - Fed - Disconnect - Wang - Financier

However, the biggest disappointment was yet to come. Fed up with the disconnect, Wang met with a Chinese financier. “I thought, if I wanted authentically in Chinese, maybe it is a foreign-language movie, and not an American movie,” she said in a recent interview at the Bowery Hotel in New York. “Maybe I’m delusional in even thinking that I’m American, and that this is an American story.” The new meeting went nowhere fast. “This Chinese producer was like, ‘You need a white guy in your movie,’” Wang said. “They’re so influenced by Hollywood.”

“The Farewell”

Route - Episode - Life - Family

So she tried another route, crafting an episode of “This American Life” around her family’s...
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