When a Lie Becomes Your Breakout Film

This story contains spoilers for The Farewell.

A man is crying—no, convulsing with sobs—on-screen inside a theater in downtown Los Angeles during a pivotal scene in the film The Farewell. He’s at a wedding banquet and he’s supposed to be toasting the newlyweds, but he’s shifted his attention to his mother instead—and, as if at a funeral, he’s weeping. His mother watches, baffled at the way he’s doubled over in grief, not joy. It’s intense. It’s quiet.

And then: Someone sitting close to the screen laughs. The cackle cuts sharply through the silence, and it catches the film’s writer-director, Lulu Wang—there because it’s the L.A. premiere of her breakout hit—off guard.

“The last time I saw [The Farewell] with an audience was at Sundance, and I don’t think there was as much laughter during [that] speech, when he breaks down,” Wang told me the next day, late in June. “It usually gets really quiet and tense in that moment, and then the laughter comes once the camera cuts away from him … But last night, it was almost like—” She raises her voice and mimics the laughter. “Ah ha ha ha! Like, laughing at him?”

Don’t get her wrong: She wasn’t disturbed by the reaction. “I’m not the kind of filmmaker who feels like, You have permission to laugh here, but not there,” she explained. Rather, she was delighted by the unexpected liveliness. “I was just really hoping people didn’t hate it, because it is so personal, and it is my family. If they hated it, then they hate us, in a way, you know?”

Indeed, the deeply sincere and personal The Farewell, released in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, has had a profoundly powerful effect on its viewers so far, whether prompting tears or unexpected laughter. Wang based the film, her second feature, on a lie that she and her family told: In 2013, her nai nai (the Mandarin term for paternal grandmothers), was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, but the family chose not to tell her—a call that may seem unusual but is actually in keeping with Chinese values of sharing emotional burdens. (This way, Nai Nai doesn’t have to carry the weight of knowing about her failing health; the family does it for her.) To ensure that everyone got a chance to say goodbye, they orchestrated a shotgun wedding for Wang’s cousin in China, an elaborate cover-up that Wang,

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture


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