Monday, December 04, 2017

Lady Bird (2017)

I admit I've been suspicious of Greta Gerwig's long-trending indie queen popularity. She has appeared in movies I count among my favorites, notably Damsels in Distress, where she acquits herself well. Acquits herself well? She's one of the best parts if not practically carrying it. But she has also appeared in movies I'm less inclined to favor, such as Greenberg or Frances Ha, which already have imposing reputations but mostly looked like mannered indie-level exercises to me. She usually seems to be playing a version of the same character—a person slightly off, the kind people say marches to the beat of another drummer. That personality is still felt acutely in Lady Bird, Gerwig's directing debut and third or fourth screenplay. In fact, in many ways, Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Brooklyn)—taking the title role as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson—often seems to be doing a straight-up impersonation of Gerwig to put some of these scenes over. But that's about the end of any carping on my part. This is otherwise a tremendously heartening movie in so many good ways. It's a tender coming-of-age story, with obvious autobiographical details: set in Sacramento, in the early 2000s, Lady Bird's mother is a nurse and her father is a computer programmer struggling to survive in an industry prone to youth movements. Lady Bird, who turns 18 during the six or eight months of this story, is hungry for life and experience, ashamed of her family's modest means, compulsively trying to make it with cool kids, and committing her share of mistakes. At the heart of Lady Bird is a story of a difficult mother/daughter relationship, marked by fierce love and even fiercer alienation. Laurie Metcalf plays her mother, Marion, and she is fine. There's no shortage of quirky situations and hipster affectation on display here—among other things, Gerwig has a rock critic's taste and sense for ironically programming the soundtracks of lives—but what I like best are the scenes between people, between family and friends. They are sharply observed, develop at their own pace, almost always ring true, and they can leave you wrung out more than once in a reasonably short movie. All things considered, this is an exciting directing debut.

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