The Farewell director Lulu Wang on mixing screwball humor with pathos

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Courtesy A24

Way back in 2015, we interviewed writer-director Lulu Wang about her feature debut starring Brit Marling, Posthumous (Posthumous director Lulu Wang on the inspiration of Berlin and balancing comedy and drama) during it’s North American premiere at the Miami Film Festival. What a leap in recognition she has found with her sophomore effort, The Farewell. After 173 critics’ reviews, as of this posting, the movie still stands 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. We met with Wang earlier this month for a story in The Miami New Times (The Farewell Director Lulu Wang on the “Surreal” Experience of 100% Fresh), the local angle being that she grew up in Miami and graduated from the New World School of the Arts.

Though filmmaking wasn’t her focus at the school, she gravitated toward filmmaking at Boston College. Both her films, to varying degrees, are inspired by her own life. Her latest, however, stands as her more intimate work. It’s based on an actual empathetic lie her family told her cancer-stricken grandmother living in China. In The Farewell, the Chinese family of young New York-transplant Billi (Awkwafina) keep a cancer diagnosis hidden from their elderly matriarch and put together a wedding under the pretense to gather around her for one last celebration.

Just as it was important in Posthumous, a balance of drama and humor is important in The Farewell. This is where we started our conversation at the Soho Beach House in Miami Beach, when Wang visited our area for a press tour. Below you will find a sample of my interview with the director that could not fit in the New Times article linked above, including her continued love for screwball humor, the importance color plays in setting a film’s tone as well as insight into her next project.

Courtesy A24

Hans Morgenstern: Your previous movie had a more screwball element to its humor but also a seriousness. How do you feel your approach to humor has changed here?

Lulu Wang: I’ve always been attracted to screwball comedy and screwball set ups, and in a way this felt like a real life screwball, and it made me realize why I like screwballs, because real life — or at least my life — can be very ridiculous … That was the initial draw, that it was this screwball comedy that also had a lot of pathos … I really wanted to play with that tone, being able to juxtapose pathos and humor within the same moments, in the same frame.

How was writing this movie compared to the last one?

I think it was a much more investigative process for me because it is real, and I had a very specific story to tell that I didn’t have to go, “What else can I make up to make this interesting?” I mean, there were certainly moments in the development process where producers would say, “Should we have a low point, should we have this, should we have that?” For me, I didn’t want to do that.

Courtesy A24

With Posthumous we talked about your colorful palette. This continues to an extent in The Farewell, doesn’t it?

My colorist would actually say that this movie’s practically black and white. He thinks it’s very subdued, desaturated. He didn’t color my last film, but he colored Moonlight. So my cinematographer, Anna Franquesa Solano, and I really sought to do this sort of soft palette of pastels, so it feels like there’s a lot of colors, but it’s actually quite desaturated. They don’t really pop like normally in movies people kind of crank up the saturation to almost give it like a hyper realistic feeling whereas for this we intentionally toned it down to have it feel more grounded.

Posthumous is a romantic movie. It completely, unapologetically embraces romanticism, and so the colors reflect that. I would say that this film is an optimistic film, but it’s not a romantic one, in the sense that it’s earned optimism. It’s joy, but there’s nothing romantic about it, there’s nothing fantasy about it.

Your next feature is sci-fi, an adaptation of Children of the New World.

It’s a high concept setup but similar to how I approach all my movies in that I try to find the humanity within the story. It’s really another story about family and family dynamics and very much like the modern family as the world continues to change. Like, what does it mean to have a family? This particular story deals with a couple who can’t have children in the real world, and they have children in a virtual reality space, so it really comes to bring up this question of why do we have children. Is it to selflessly give life, or is there something that we’re looking for when we have children, from the children, right? Something to fulfill our own needs, some kind of vessel for us to project all of our lost dreams and desires.

Hans Morgenstern

The Farewell runs 98 minutes, is in English and Mandarin with English subtitles and is rated PG. It opens in our South Florida area on Friday, Aug. 2 in the following counties and theaters:

MIAMI-DADE: Landmark at Merrick Park, O Cinema Miami Beach, AMC Aventura 24, AMC Sunset Place 24, South Beach Regal 18 Miami Beach.

BROWARD: Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie and Classic Gateway Theatre.

PALM BEACH COUNTY: FAU’s Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood 16, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14 and XD, Cinemark Palace 20, Movies of Delray 5, Cinepolis Jupiter 14, CMX Downtown at The Gardens 16.

For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. A24 invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.

(Copyright 2019 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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