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LADY BIRD: Greta Gerwig’s Directorial Debut With A Difference

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LADY BIRD (Dir. Greta Gerwig, 2017)

Not so long ago, Greta Gerwig was the indie film “it” girl. She acted in films made by the Duplass brothers (BAGHEAD), Woody Allen (TO ROME WITH LOVE), and her long-time boyfriend Noah Baumbach (GREENBERG, FRANCES HA, MISTRESS AMERICA). She even brushed up against the mainstream with her appearance in the awful ARTHUR remake with Russell Brand.

But now Gerwig tries her luck behind the camera for her directorial debut, LADY BIRD, which she also scripted.

No, it’s not about the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson who had that nickname, it’s about a 17-year old Sacramento high school senior with dyed red hair played by Saoirse Ronan (ATONEMENT, HANNA, BROOKLYN), whose parents gave her the name Christine, but she goes by “Lady Bird” and insists that everyone calls her that.

Lady Bird’s tense relationship with her mother, superbly played by Laurie Metcalf ( I don’t need to list her credits, do I?) is the crux of this movie which is set in 2002, when Gerwig was around the same age as its protagonist. That makes one assume that it’s autobiographical, but Gerwig claims that while she was born and raised in Sacramento, and went to an all-girls Catholic school there, the film is only loosely based on her life as many of the situations depicted didn’t happen to her.

We are introduced to Lady Bird and her mom, Marion, as they are returning home from touring a prospective in-state college, and we get a taste of what their emotionally strained life together is like.

While driving home, Marion lectures about where she and her husband Larry (a laid-back Tracy Letts) can afford to send Lady Bird, while our titular character says she wants to go where culture is like New York which makes Marion label her a snob. When her mother goes on a tirade about how her daughter “should just go to city college, then to jail, and then back to city college,” Lady Bird reacts by opening the door of the car and jumping out.

With a cast on her right arm on which she wrote “F*** You Mom,” Lady Bird signs up for drama club auditions at her High School, Immaculate Heart, with her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and gets cast in a musical production. During rehearsals, Lady Birdstarts crushing on one of her fellow cast members, Danny played by Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and the currently playing THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI).

The couple date, but the courtship is cut short when Lady Bird catches Danny kissing another guy in a restroom stall. So then our heroine has eyes for Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), a snooty, oh-so-deep musician who likes to say “that’s hella tight.”

Lady Bird loses her virginity to Kyle, but is saddened to find out that it wasn’t his first time. Moving on, after getting some rejections to schools she’s applied to, Lady Bird gets on a wait list for a university in New York, but keeps it secret from her mother.

On the sidelines of Lady Bird’s love life, is Jordan Rodrigues as her adopted brother, Miguel; Marielle Scott as his live-in girlfriend, Shelly Yuhan; Odeya Rush as the popular, pretty Jenna, who Lady Bird befriends to her BFF Julie’s chagrin; and Lois Smith, who has a few nice, warm moments as Sister Sarah Joan, the principal of our leading lady’s high school.

Because of its down to earth depiction of a hip artistically inclined young woman, who describes herself as being from the “wrong side of the tracks” going through the motions like going to a drunken party at someone’s rich parents’ house, and the politics of who goes with who to the prom, the film recalls the 1986 John Hughes teen classic PRETTY IN PINK and from what I’ve heard that’s on purpose (According to a Vanity Fair interview with Ronan, Gerwig pointed her towards that film, and Hughes’ SIXTEEN CANDLES before shooting).

LADY BIRD is a coming of age drama that doesn’t break any new ground but its low key tale of a young woman entering a new phase in her life is unpretentiously told by Gerwig, who appealingly doesn’t have her characters making snarky one-liners – consider her the anti-Diablo Cody, and this the antithesis of JUNO. Our  writer/director also brings out great naturalistic performances by Ronan and Metcalf that are both deserving of Oscar nominations.


Its a directorial debut with a difference, the difference being that it has a lot more artistic depth that I expected from Gerwig, whose onscreen presence as an actress can be a bit goofy, quirky, and often way flakey. 

Gerwig makes good choices when it comes to the film’s soundtrack as well, from Jon Brion’s subtle score to the Sondheim show-tunes that Ronan and Ledges sing, to the perfect-for-period snippets of Alanis Morrisette and Justin Timberlake. She even somehow makes the Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash into Me” actually resonate and effectively evoke heartbreak in two different scenes. No small feat that.


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Film Babble Blog’s 2015 Fall Film Round-Up Part 1

So many movies, so little time.


With a few exceptions, I’ve found it to be a fine fall for film. The
movies that have stood out to me include THE MARTIAN, BRIDGE OF SPIESSTEVE JOBS, SICARIO, ROOM, SPOTLIGHT, and CREED (click on the titles to read my reviews), but there are many more that I have seen over the last few months but haven’t blogged about yet. So I thought I’d take a look back, and clean out my notebook in the process, especially because a bunch more movies are coming fast.

I’ll start with what’s currently #1 at the box office, Francis Lawrence’s THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2, the fourth and final film in the popular franchise. I enjoyed the first two entries in the series, but haven’t been into either half of MOCKINGJAY. PART 2 is a washed out slog through bleak terrain with very little action (certainly not of the fiery kind that the poster implies) or emotional connection. Jennifer Lawrence and the rest of the cast make the most out of the murk, which has to do with our arrow-shooting heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and crew taking down the evil Capitol or some such, but I was so ready for it to end way before it did. The most notable, and maybe the most depressing, part is that it contains the last film work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose loss can really be felt in a concluding scene in which a letter from his character to Katniss has to stand in for him.
Next up, a few weeks back I had the choice between an advance screening of CREED and the new Pixar movie, Peter Sohn’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Because of their track record, I went with Pixar. I chose…poorly. The obvious upside is that the film, set in a world in which dinosaurs never went extinct, is gorgeously animated with stunning photo-realistic landscapes and vibrant colors that really pop in 3D. The downside is that, after half a decade of development hell with changes in director and voice cast, the resulting film’s story, about Arlo the Apatosaurus’ adventure accompanied by a feral caveboy, is probably Pixar’s least substantial. After the screening, I joked with friend, and fellow blogger, William Fonvielle of Filmvielle, that it needed a MacGuffin, but it probably really needed a few more re-writes.
A much better animated feature this season, is Steve Martino’s THE PEANUTS MOVIE, the first “Peanuts” film in 35 years (the last one, BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN (AND DON’T COME BACK!), I saw as a kid at the theater – I’m old). It’s apparent that the filmmakers, including Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz’s son Craig, and grandson Bryan, who co-wrote and co-produced, took a lot of care in paying proper tribute to the style, tone, and sentiment of the original strip (and the TV specials and movies), right down to every character’s expression. 

The premise, involving Charlie Brown trying to impress the ever elusive Little Red-Haired Girl, is full of humorous and heartfelt moments, and Snoopy’s subplot, involving his imaginary WWI air battles with the Red Baron, is pretty entertaining too. The animation may be a little too fancy – such intricately applied shadows and lighting on these kids’ faces seem a bit much at times – and I could’ve done without the pop song concessions, but this enjoyable update acutely captures Schultz’s ‘loser who wins’ spirit.

On the indie front, there’s John Crowley’s BROOKLYN which has been getting well deserved buzz and is currently #9 at the box office. It’s a very pretty period piece, based on Colm Tóibín’s acclaimed 2009 novel, that boasts a strong performance by Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, a shy Irish immigrant struggling to adapt to her new life in 1950s Brooklyn. In yet another likable turn, Jim Broadbent plays a kindly priest who helps Eilis get a job working a cosmetics counter in a department store, where she’s watched over by Jessica Paré (Mad Men) as the head clerk. Eilis finds love in the form of Emory Cohen as Tony, a charming Italian-American who scopes her out at a dance because he “likes Irish Girls.”

Eillis’ learns that her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) back home in Ireland has died and she decides to return home, but before she goes, she and Tony get secretly married at City Hall. Once back home she finds herself with a new suitor (Domhnall Gleeson) while letters from Tony stack up unopened. So our heroine, who grows more and more confident as the film progresses, has to make a choice between the two vastly different lifes.


The screenplay, adapted by Nick Hornby (HIGH FIDELITY, AN EDUCATION), is tenderly written, giving Eilis’ story a lot of resonance, and it’s a handsome looking film, warmly shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger (WILD, DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB). Although there’s another ‘50s-set drama (hint: it stars Cate Blanchett) soon to release that’s far superior, BROOKLYN is a beautifully drawn drama that is sure to get plenty of awards season action.

Stay tuned for part 2.

More later…