(Spoiler free!) Pardon my finals, but it's been a while since I've written something. Normally, I like to only write when something moves me enough to be inspired to talk about it, but I also realize that it isn't a good habit to pick and choose things based on what's essentially "when I feel like it." I'm hoping by having this preface out there for anyone to see motivates me to push past my lethargic reservations and challenge myself to write about any film (or sometimes topic) regardless of how I personally felt about it.
Since we last met, I was in a pretty pessimistic hole regarding the movie industry, and its lack of an effort to put out new exciting and original projects in favor of sequels, pre-established IP's, reboots, and films that pander to foreign audiences in the name of money. While I still hold out certain resentments and personal boycotts for certain types of film (y'all know whoms't y'all are), I realized that a full-on self-sanction of any movie playing in the theatres is irrational and stubborn on my end. So, since around September, I've been making an effort to go out and see films that I at least saw some potential in being entertaining or.... dare I say.......fresh and original (emoji with a monocle + emoji with money tongue). Gut-busting jokes aside, I wanna do a quick 1-2 sentence review of all the movies I've seen since September up until yesterday. These are films I either wanted to review but felt like it was too late, or had no desire to write about in the first place (and that's no good):
Baby Driver - Edgar Wright top 5 directors in film industry today, RIP enjoying Kevin Spacey roles - 9/10
Mother! - Director of Black Swan makes Black Swan 2: Electric Boogaloo with his girlfriend who plays mother earf but earf is a house and No Country for Old Man is God. Equally as thought-provoking as it is pretentious - 7/10
Kingsman: The Golden Circle - Same movie as the first one but Julianne Moore is Sam Jackson's character this time - 5/10
The Square - You ever go to a modern art museum and have no idea what the fuck is going on, and when you think you finally get what they're trying to say, you still swear on your life half of what they're doing is just random bullshit? - 6.5/10 (also this movie won the pom d'or (best picture) at Cannes film fest, like excuse me is this really the best movie y'all saw over there? smh)
My Friend Dahmer - Pretty good I guess, not a fan of realist biopics, but does a good job of humanizing (not normalizing, you vultures) someone who eventually becomes one of the WOAT serial killers. Don't have a ton to say but neither does this movie, younger Naked Brother Band is in it - 6.5/10
Okay so onto Lady Bird...
It's awards season, and that means that films trying to compete for nominations are starting to be released around this time. A lot of these movies are only in limited releases, meaning they're shown across certain select cities with a high movie-going audience (i.e. New York and LA) before they get a wide release to most theatres around the country. One movie, in particular, I've been hearing a lot of buzz about is Lady Bird, the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. My only experience with her work in the past is her role in the movie Frances Ha, a film about young women in New York city desperately trying to make a stable living for herself. I was a fan of her and the movies charm, and I would later find out she also wrote the film (Noah Baumbach directed). There was just something about how she carried herself that, on paper, I feel like I would find kind of obnoxious, but in practice, I was pleasantly attached to and engaged with. And to me that says a lot about her as a person when she can transcend what could normally be considered indie art house pity trite into something likable and endearing.
Yet despite all of this, from what I saw in the trailers for Lady Bird, I still had that same apprehension of "oh this is gonna be some granola-coming-of-age-I'm-different-than-the-people-around-me-Cat-Stevens-ass-soundtrack-with-a-sepia-lookin-filter movie that seems to be released once a year without fail." It's probably because I had such a small sample size of Gerwig's work, but something in me didn't trust it. And once again, I was honestly pleasantly surprised at how this film defied all of my expectations and gave me an authentically heartwarming story about a senior girl in high school trying to figure herself out.
Lady Bird follows Christine "Lady Bird' McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan), a senior at an all-girls Catholic high school in Sacramento, whose family has serious income issues. Her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) works double nursing shifts at a psych ward since her husband lost her job, and subsequently takes out all of her pressure and frustration on Lady Bird. Lady Bird's goal is to go to a four-year university in New York, but the obstacles of finances and her less-than-desirable grades are making it a bit of a pipe dream for her. The film essentially followers her entire senior year of high school, dealing with boy issues, fitting in, friend drama, and any other problems most high school seniors face today (or I guess 2002 when the film takes place).
So right off the bat, what sold me here, similarly to what sold me in Frances Ha, is the performance of the lead. I could tell this was a bit of an autobiographical tale for Gerwig, as I noticed similarities between the characters of Frances Ha and Lady Bird (both are from Sacramento, both want to be in New York, both don't really have it figured out yet). In that vein, this movie almost feels like a prequel to Frances Ha, like where she was at emotionally in high school. Ronan does an excellent performance in conveying Gerwig's mannerisms and tones, but in her own way. I noticed the similarities between the two, but I never felt like I was watching a carbon copy of the former. Essentially, Ronan takes Gerwig and makes it Ronan (if that makes sense). This sells me on the believability of the character, I don't feel like I'm watching someone do their best Greta Gerwig impression. With the combination of the two personalities, I feel like I'm watching a completely new and unique character. Ronan is Irish, and does have an accent in real life, but never did it slip during the entirety of the film nor was my illusion ever broken that I was not watching a character who grew up in Northern California her entire life. Though it's not a performance for the ages per say, I would not be surprised if Ronan ended up with an Oscar nod similar to Ellen Page in Juno. The rest of the performances were all great too, with Metcalf having the strongest of the bunch. I was sold on the fact that everyone in the film could be a real person.
Adding on to that authenticity factor, this to me is what left me delighted walking out of this film: all the relationships and interactions in this movie feel so damn real. And by that, I don't mean like what you watch is something that happens in everyday life one to one. In fact, as a comedy, it's a bit more of a caricature of these moments. But it's the emotional response you get from these interactions that feel so alive. Her banter with her best friend and how they lose their shit over mundane jokes was something I'm sure everyone can relate to with their own best friend. Her interactions with boys, though simple and to the point, can sum up most high school flirting and first-time relationships. I caught so many relatable moments that I thought were unique to me and my experience in high school, that the film had me unintentionally (or maybe intentionally on Gerwig's end) evaluating the quality of my time in school mid-film. But it does this in a way that isn't obvious or easy. There was never that "oh, come on" moment or "yeah yeah we've seen this before." And the thing is we have seen this before, just not quite in this way. There are some moments that truly move you in a manner that is definitely earned.
But the best and strongest relationship in the film is between Lady Bird and her mother. Both of them are constantly bickering and getting at each other over seemingly nothing, you know like a mother and teenage daughter naturally would especially around the time she's getting ready to leave the nest. At the beginning of the film, her mother is chewing her out unrelentingly, and Lady Bird's response is to open the door of a moving car and literally just fall out. This causes her to be in a cast for a good bit of the film, and I think that's pretty emblematic of their relationship. Her mother is so overbearing and controlling, like a cast, but in the end, it's Lady Bird's fault she's in it in the first place. Lady Bird is entitled and ungrateful at times, but her mother is unreasonably on her case at others. Yet despite her unreasonable behavior, we as an audience know or at least can tell that she truly loves and cares for Lady Bird, and only wants the best for her based only on their interactions. Conversely, we know that Lady Bird really does love her mother, and is subtly crying out for her approval. It's a fantastic dynamic that reaches a very satisfying arc by the end of the film. For those of us who had mothers that showed their love through, should I say, unfavorably unconventional but ultimately beneficial methods during high school, this movie should feel right at home (hey mom).
Now while I sing this films praises, it is far from a perfect one. I did enjoy the fast moving pace of the film (kept it from being slow or stale at any points), but something about it didn't feel particularly different or stylistic. Not every film needs to be like this, but generally, when you have the creative freedom of both writing and directing, you wanna show that your movie is visually different from what's out there in some way. The rhythm of the film felt like a dollar bin version of something Edgar Wright has mastered in the films he makes. I chalk it up to being a directorial debut, and I certainly do see the potential for achieving a personal style down the road, but it was something I did notice. The cinematography was also just average, and though I vividly remember the feelings this film left me with, I can't say quite the same about its visuals.
Lastly, the soundtrack was pretty good too! While I wouldn't say it's anything special (special means I want to go out and buy it separately), it wasn't your average curation of indie folk songs that are sentimental for the sake of being sentimental in films like this. The songs do just fine in establishing the tones for scenes while also not being obvious or obnoxious choices.
In the end, I'm very glad I saw Lady Bird. If you are at all feeling the same way I was about it beforehand, I would say give this one a shot. It's not trying to be something it's not, nor does it make you want to roll your eyes in distaste (does anybody else do that.... no...? okay :-/ ) like in some movie's effort to be "different," it ultimately becomes contrived (like 20th Century Woman). From what I've heard, this one is probably going to receive its fair share of nominations during the awards circuit, so I suggest getting ahead and watching this one now so you can be cool and tell your friends "hey I saw this before it was nominated" and they can be like "cool you find value in things others barely pay half a mind to NERD." 7.5/10