Lady Bird


There’s always a little love/hate in every mother-daughter relationship.

(2017) Dramedy (A24) Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush, Kathryn Newton, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith, Laura Marano, Andy Buckley, Danielle Macdonald, Jordan Rodrigues, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kristen Cloke, Daniel Zovatto, John Karna, Bayne Gibby, Bob Stephenson, Marielle Scott, Chris Witaske, Suzanne LaChasse.  Directed by Greta Gerwig

 

Adolescence is a difficult period. We all undergo it; we don’t all survive it. We muddle through as best we can as we learn to find out who we are and hopefully, who we want to become. It’s a wonder that any of us live to be 21.

Christine McPherson (Ronan) insists that people call her “Lady Bird.” That isn’t her name; she just likes the sound of it. A high school senior at an all-girls Catholic school in suburban Sacramento, California, she is chafing at the bit to get free of the Great Central Valley and move somewhere sophisticated and cultured i.e. New York. Her mother Marion (Metcalf) would prefer that Lady Bird stay somewhere local, mainly because that’s about all the family can afford. At least Marion can take comfort in that her daughter, who is surprisingly smart, doesn’t really have the grades to get into any schools she really wants to go to.

Lady Bird has a fairly small circle; in addition to her mother with whom she has a contentious relationship, there’s her brother Miguel (Rodrigues) who graduated college but has only been able to find a job bagging groceries and her father Larry (Letts) who is as loving and kind as her mother is critical and demanding. Lady Bird’s bestie Julie Steffans (Feldstein) is, like herself, from the wrong side of the tracks. Julie is, like Lady Bird, on the outside looking in on the popularity scale.

Like most girls her age, Lady Bird is very interested in boys but they mystify her. She doesn’t really know how to act around them or to let them know she likes them. She’s also interested in sex but she wants it on her terms. I think it’s pretty much safe to say that Lady Bird wants to live life in all its aspects on her own terms which at 17 isn’t necessarily an unusual thing. She will explore different aspects of high school life, experience all sorts of different things both good and bad and continue to work towards her goal of going to college in New York, as hopeless a goal as it may seem.

The term “coming of age film” can cover a whole lot of sins but in this case, it is truly apt. We actually see real growth (as opposed to Hollywood growth which is generally unearned) in Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig, riding the director’s chair solo for the first time in her career, does a bang-up job. Although only semi-autobiographical (Gerwig has gone on record that this is more emotionally autobiographical than factually so) there is an air of authenticity to it. If Lady Bird isn’t Gerwig she’s certainly a cousin and that’s not a bad thing.

Ronan and Metcalf both turn in performances that have legitimate shots at Oscar nominations. When mother and daughter are going at it the screen just about crackles with electricity. Marion loves her daughter passionately but doesn’t always express that love in healthy ways. She’s outspoken (like her daughter) and hyper-critical which is definitely not appreciated. Larry does his best to mitigate things but he’s a little intimidated by Marion as well and when he loses his job he clearly begins to doubt himself although that’s an aspect of the story that isn’t explored thoroughly. Then again, it’s not Larry’s story – it’s Lady Bird’s.

In a sense this is also a love letter to Sacramento (where Gerwig grew up and where this is set). Although Lady Bird complains about the provincialness of the city, it’s clear that Gerwig has a great deal of affection for the place. Residents and regular visitors will recognize a lot of different landmarks and local hangouts shown at various times in the film. One can’t complain about a movie with this much love for the capitol of California.

There is a pretty frank portrayal of Lady Bird’s sexuality; she becomes attracted to two different guys during the course of the film and contemplates losing her virginity. The frank discussion of the event is going to feel familiar to most women, although those who find such things distasteful are going to have a difficult time with that particular scene. I suppose it is going to depend on how comfortable you are with sexual discussions.

Gerwig doesn’t get everything right. The ending feels a bit rushed and a little bit of a nonsequitir. Her move from one BFF to another one who is more shallow just so Lady Bird can get closer to a guy she’s interested in comes off as a little bit cliché and maybe a little bit out of character. However, those are relatively minor things and she does for the most part nail the film.

I commented on Facebook that everyone who has ever been an adolescent girl should see this and I stand by that. It is going to resonate deeply with most women who will recognize the situations and the character dynamics. Men are also going to enjoy this because they will also get a chance to laugh at some of the foibles of adolescent girls – and maybe get to understand the women in their lives just a teensy bit better. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

REASONS TO GO: The writing is smart and the characters realistic. You have to love a film that gives Sacto this much love.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending feels a little bit rushed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, a lot of teen sexuality, some brief nudity and lots of teen partying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lady Bird recently set a Rotten Tomatoes record for the most positive reviews without a single negative review – 164 consecutive positives and counting.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Girl Flu
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Gangster Land

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Flicka


 

Flicka

Maria Bello and Tim McGraw contemplate the suckiness of kids today.

(20th Century Fox) Tim McGraw, Maria Bello, Allison Lohman, Ryan Kwanten, Daniel Pino, Dallas Roberts, Kaylee DeFer, Jeffrey Nordling, Dey Young, Nick Searcy, Buck Taylor.  Directed by Michael Mayer.

I guess it would be easy to take shots at a movie I was loathe to see in the first place, but Da Queen insisted because she’s a huge Tim McGraw fan and loves the song (“My Little Girl”) that serves as kind of a theme song for the movie and so I went, grumbling and complaining. Da Queen was adamant I go into the movie with an open mind, so I did my best, but I have seen My Friend Flicka and as much as I liked Roddy MacDowell in it, I didn’t have much hope for the modern remake.

Kate (Lohman) is a free-spirited teenager who just doesn’t fit in at the expensive private school she attends. She may be there physically but her mind and her soul are far away on the western Wyoming mountain ranges, where her father’s (McGraw) horse ranch is. So centered on it is she that during an important English final, she writes not a single word down on her paper.

When she goes home, it is with a heavy heart. She has been asked to leave the school and she knows her dad will hit the roof when he finds out. Still, she hopes her mother (Bello) and her sympathetic brother Howard (Kwanten) might run some interference for her. In the meantime, she sets out on a dawn ride into the mountains to clear her head, avoid her dad and maybe think up a way to break the news.

While she’s in the mountains, she encounters a mountain lion, causing her horse to throw her and leave her behind. She also encounters a magnificent wild mustang who saves her from the mountain lion before running off. Excited, she scampers back home, breathlessly telling her family and the laconic hands Gus (Roberts) and Jack (Pino) about what happened. Trouble is, her father knows about her problems at school. See, there are these things called fax machines that work pretty much anywhere there’s a telephone line, and they have plenty of those, even in the mountains.

To say Kate and her father are at odds with each other is putting it mildly. She still is a bit of a daydreamer, only now her focus is on that mustang she saw. While the men are out herding the…herd, she sets out to flush the mustang out and by gaw she does just that. Her father manages to capture the spirited mustang and pens her up. Kate names her Flicka, which is apparently Swedish for “pretty girl” (or so Gus says).

Kate feels an intense bond between her and the mustang, and means to ride it, but the mustang is having none of that. Her father leaves strict orders that nobody is to go into the pen with the wild creature, but Kate willfully disobeys, trying to gain the trust of the horse. Eventually she does, but the horse gets spooked and runs off with Kate aboard…well, briefly.

Her father is furious. Her daughter is disobeying direct orders and putting herself in jeopardy. Taking care of the problem is simplicity itself; he sells the wild horse to a rodeo owner (Searcy) who is making a killing on wild mustang races.  Such an inconvenience isn’t enough to stop Kate. She determines to ride Flicka in the race at the rodeo. The prize money would be enough for her to buy Flicka back, and then the horse would truly be hers. Of course, things go terribly awry…

This is based on a classic children’s novel, as I said, and if Mary O’Hara were around today, she’d be kicking somebody’s backside – real hard, too. As I remember it, the lessons that came out of the original book had to do with respecting nature, remembering always that your family loves you no matter what and believing in yourself even when nobody else believes in you. The last part Kate has down pretty much from the get-go. Lohman plays Kate as a kid who is mule-headed, obsessive, whiny and bad-tempered. She’s supposed to be spirited, but comes off being arrogant, selfish and flat-out petulant. Eventually, of course, her passion wins over her father in the movie but in real life, her passion would win her an appointment behind the woodshed. At least, I think they still have woodsheds in Wyoming. They’re pretty much gone everywhere else.

Since I can’t get behind the main character, I have to get behind the parents, and if someone told me back in the day I’d be identifying with the parents over the teenager, I’d let loose a loud, piercing shriek and faint dead away on the spot. Afterwards, I’d regain consciousness, get up and get behind Mary O’Hara in line. Be that as it may, I have to admit – and the next sound you’ll hear is Da Queen letting out a triumphant squeal – that Tim McGraw does a much better job than I expected him to. In fact, he really does carry the movie and acts more as the emotional center, which isn’t easy when he has to play the stern disciplinarian and hard-headed father figure. Still, he pulls it off and quite frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised – if you’ll recall, he did a superb job in Friday Night Lights too.

Maria Bello as the long-suffering mom spends most of the movie acting as a mediator and urging her husband to “talk to her!!!” It’s not a great role, and quite frankly its written mainly to present a picture of a stable two-parent family; otherwise, she really doesn’t have much to do but make pancakes. There is a nice scene where she and her husband go riding where you get a glimpse of what lies inside the character, but those moments are fleeting indeed; I don’t blame Bello, who does a credible job, but the writing which was kind of lazy and cliché.

It has to be said that they got the location right; the vistas of the western Wyoming mountain ranges are magnificent and you get a sense of why these people love this land so dern much. Unfortunately, much of the action doesn’t live up to the scenery it takes place in. I went through this movie feeling flat and unmoved. Granted, this is clearly aimed at tweener girls and their moms, but a better movie would have involved those not tweeners, girls or from the Rockies. This isn’t terrible, mind you. It’s just mediocre.

WHY RENT THIS: Tim McGraw gives a surprisingly good performance and proves himself to be a credible actor as the true emotional center of the film. Spectacular Wyoming vistas make this easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is aimed squarely at tweener girls and their moms and if you are neither you may not find anything worthwhile here. Alison Lohman’s Kate is written as spoiled more than spirited.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that I wouldn’t keep a young pre-teen girl from seeing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The part of “Kate” in the book was actually male, and was named Ken. Roddy McDowell played him in the best-known movie adaptation, My Friend Flicka (1943).

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Departures