I have been beyond bored with movies this season. THOR still dominates the box office and is playing on 3 screens at my local multiplex. Just not excited about the god of thunder or comedy sequels: DADDY’S HOME 2 (second place at the box office) or A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS both featuring intergenerational hi-jinks at the holidays among dueling dads/granddads, moms/grandmoms. Watching the extended trailers and following up with some tequila-infused eggnog should give you the same buzz.
Same goes for horror flicks this holiday season: JIGSAW features a ghostly serial killer and HAPPY DEATH DAY is “Friday the 13th” meets “Ground Hog Day.” BLADE RUNNER 2049 was dull. GEOSTORM seems cruelly redundant in an era of real-life global natural disasters, i.e. earthquakes, floods and fires of biblical proportions. I did venture out to see MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, an expressly lackluster remake with a star-strewn cast churning out a smattering of caricatured performances in a recycled but not re-imagined script lacking wit enough for a comedy or mystery enough for, well, a mystery. I held out hope for VICTORIA AND ABDUL which I’d been warned was saccharine and flat; despite Dame Judi Dench and elaborately-festooned period costumes and sets– it was.
NOVITIATE left me glad I never followed up on my desire to become a nun. Had I seen this film after I saw “The Nun’s Story” starring Audrey Hepburn, I might have changed my mind at 11 instead of 16. A beautiful young girl (Margaret Qualley–Andie MacDowell’s daughter) enters the convent to escape her parents’ volatile marriage, sublimates her yearning for an absent father, and sets out “in love” to become the bride of Christ. Instead of peace and spiritual tranquility, she encounters the Catholic church in the turmoil of Vatican II, her own repressed sexual urges, and a sadistic Mother Superior (Melissa Leo) who’d be better off in a sequel I WOULD pay to see– “A Bad Nun’s Christmas.”
Then I saw LADY BIRD, and my heart soared. This fresh, perceptive coming of age film, may be the best movie out there right now. Witty, wise, and full of heart, LADY BIRD is hilariously and accurately observed by writer/director, actress Greta Gerwig. Though showing on but 37 screens across the country, this 93 minute miracle somehow managed to crack the top ten films at the box office last weekend. Maybe cream still floats to the top; I hope to whip up additional interest here.
This gem of a film features the glowing Saoirse Ronan (pronounced SER’-sha RO’-nin) Oscar nominee for her radiant performance in BROOKLYN. Here she plays a senior at a Catholic HS in Sacramento, CA navigating transitions familial, romantic, and collegial. Her given name is Christine McPherson but she has given herself her own name: “Lady Bird, ” and stretches her identity to include a reach for admission to east coast colleges which everyone including her guidance counselor and her mother think is beyond her grasp.
Gerwig is particularly attuned to the whipsaw emotional shifts between mother (the marvelous Laurie Metcalf) and daughter, and the undercurrents of closeness and tension that percolate through this most tortuous of human relationships. The very first scene finds the pair in a car together; mom may be doing the driving but “Lady Bird” is aching to steer her own course. It’s only a matter of seconds into a conversation about college that a volcano of an argument erupts; Mom’s well-meaning criticism meets daughter’s fundamental need for acceptance– and they’re off. We understand them both clearly as Gerwig’s camera cuts evenly between the two, but it’s the capper of this scene which culminates in a shocking, split-second maneuver, that made me laugh out loud and appreciate Gerwig’s blunt honesty, and her dark and daring sense of humor. The dialogue is hilarious and true, her characters speak in ways wise and wacky. Gerwig knows this territory, who these characters are emotionally and psychologically, and she knows how to put it all onscreen with warmth and economy.
Saoirse Ronan is one of the most appealing, versatile, and magnetic actresses working today. Her Lady Bird is a smart, teenage every-girl, unique and universal, quirky but not weird, treading that wobbly line between self-confidence and vulnerability. She flutters between the cool kids and the nerds, the hot guys and the theater geeks, but remains grounded in a family (and a few good nuns: Lois Smith as Sister Sarah Joan is a down to earth saint) who, notwithstanding their imperfections, love her in all the crucial ways. Despite a few crash-landings here and there, Lady Bird knows she can fly.
I hope this movie flies all the way to the OSCARS– it opens wide after Thanksgiving. Have a good one!