A Chinese family discover their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.

Director: Lulu Wang
Writer: Lulu Wang
Stars: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin

Closed Captioning and Descriptive Narration Available
features English subtitles


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 (Zhou 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 don’t become apparent until the movie’s delicious final moments. One of the festival’s consensus favorites since it premiered Friday, “The 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, which A24 acquired mid-festival, 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) has as much to say about familial obligation, generational conflict, cultural confusion and the immigrant experience, and in its own modest, enormously appealing way, it feels like no less a representational breakthrough.