Nov 22

“Lady Bird”: Pre-College Teen Navigates Her Identity

A heartfelt coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the bittersweet transition from adolescence to dawning adulthood, [Greta] Gerwig’s directorial debut is a joy from start to finish, a warm, generous snapshot of teenage vulnerability and exuberance. Review of Lady Bird by Lara Zarum, Village Voice

Lady Bird isn’t a movie about any searing issue; it’s just a wonderful, rare character study of a young woman figuring out her identity, and all the pitfalls that follow. David Sims, The Atlantic

For what it’s worth, Lady Bird is the highest-ranking film ever on Rotten Tomatoes, with a perfect score.The 17-year-old lead character, as described by Sims:

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is someone cursed with that familiar, often painful, gift of youth—absolute certainty. She feels everything strongly, expresses her opinions loudly, and both wounds and charms the people around her without meaning to. On the brink of adulthood, she’s resolute enough about her desire to go to college on the East Coast (far from her home of Sacramento) that she tosses herself out of a moving car when her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) tries to dismiss her ambitions. Another movie might frame that moment as frightening or foolish, but Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird celebrates Christine’s teenage will, no matter how extreme it can sometimes be.

Sims emphasizes the importance of the connection between Lady Bird and her mom:

Lady Bird is a powerful illustration of the temporary tenuousness of the mother-daughter bond in the later teenage years, and the surprising strength of that connection even during times of total conflict. Gerwig knows how easily children can wound their parents and vice versa, and the film’s best moments spring from those (often accidental) blow-ups.

As does Zarum, who notes “it’s in many ways Marion’s story, too”:

Gerwig nails this dynamic, the subtle manner in which Marion’s little criticisms, small and sharp as a pin, poke into a daughter’s psyche the way only a mother can; or the way weeks’ worth of argument and hostility can drift off like mist when, on a shopping excursion, mother and daughter both spot the right dress at the same time.

In her article “Why the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Lady Bird Feels So Real” (The Cut), Anna Silman states, “Lady Bird is a story of personal growth, but it’s also a story of attachment: of a mother and daughter struggling to navigate their boundaries at a time when a mother’s fear of abandonment and a daughter’s desire for independence are particularly at war with one another.”

Silman points out that many of the mother-child issues have presumably emanated from Marion’s upbringing with an alcoholic, abusive mother. Although we viewers know this from a brief remark cast off by Marion, her behavior seems to indicate a major lack of insight into the ways she’s developed as a result.

Other of Lady Bird’s fraught relationships include those with her older brother Miguel, whose girlfriend also resides with their family, her best friends—both real and wannabe, and a couple of first boyfriends.

A more secure attachment, on the other hand, is what Lady Bird has with her father (Tracy Letts), who’s depressive and currently unemployed but a giving and loving dad.

Some other plot elements include her love/hate connection to her hometown of Sacramento, her shame over residing in a section of the city that’s not the coveted wealthier one, and her eagerness to leave her Catholic high school for a good college in the East despite her lackluster academic performance.

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Self-assured, fastidious, unusual, written with sass and directed with sensitivity and style, Lady Bird is a year-end surprise that lands in 2017’s pile of mediocrity like a stray emerald in a pile of discarded rhinestones.”

Watch the trailer below:

Nov 18

“Brooklyn”: Homesickness, Love, Identity, Difficult Choices

The accolades for John Crowley‘s Brooklyn, adapted from Colm Tóibín‘s 2009 novel, have been many, but what particularly stands out in the reviews is Saoirse Ronan‘s performance. As Rex Reed, New York Observer, states, “The only thing wrong with Saoirse Ronan is her name, which nobody can pronounce…You pronounce it ‘Ser-sha.’ Repeat 10 times, and don’t forget it. You will certainly remember her acting. At 21, she invades your senses and stays there.”

David Edelstein, Vulture, sets up the film’s plot:

It’s the early 1950s, and the heroine, Eilis (pronounced Eye-liss) Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), seems dislocated everywhere. She’s unable to find a decent job in her hometown of Enniscorthy, in the southeast of Ireland, and she cuts too undemonstrative a figure at dances to attract suitors. (Her best friend is the hot ticket.) Her father is dead, her mother housebound, and her much older sister, Rose, busy with a demanding bookkeeping position. It’s Rose — fearful that Eilis will waste away in this stagnant culture — who arranges with a do-gooder priest (Jim Broadbent) for her sister to move to America, where Eilis will have a job behind a counter at a big department store and a room at a boardinghouse with young Irish ladies like herself. But in the teeming, multicultural Brooklyn, Eilis is so lonely that she freezes when people try to engage her in small talk. She reads letters from her mother and sister and weeps hopelessly.

Although her life in Brooklyn begins to improve, including finding romance, a family tragedy returns her to Ireland—where she then finds yet another suitor.

But Brooklyn Isn’t Just About Romance…

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:

Rather, ‘Brooklyn’ is about the inevitable but never easy process of deciding who you are and what your life is going to be. As Georgina advises Eilis on the boat over, ‘You have to think like an American. You have to know where you’re going.’ Getting to that place is Eilis’ journey, and being witness to it is both a privilege and a pleasure.

David Edelstein, Vulture: “The film Brooklyn is a study in homesickness, which in this case means you ache for a place that, once upon a time, you were aching to leave.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “‘Brooklyn’ is a story for anyone who has ever left home. It’s a story for those who’ve waffled in indecision, for those forming their identities and forging their own paths.”

And In the End…

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “The magic of ‘Brooklyn’ can’t be analyzed, but something in the richness of its relationships puts an essential truth before us — the brevity and immensity of life. We know all about that, of course, but that’s the beauty of great art: It takes what you already know and makes you feel it.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “…(S)he is no longer who she was, even as she seems like someone we have always known.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “Neither path is wrong. That’s the brilliance of this universal story. Some will surely be disappointed with her choice, but that’s the thing — it’s her choice. Despite everyone’s good intentions, advice and expectations, it’s one that only she can make.”

The Trailer

Feb 14

“Atonement”: For Your Anti-Valentine’s Consideration

But how can a person atone? Some wrongs can’t be righted. Some crimes can’t be forgiven. When a moment is lost, it’s lost. Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, regarding Atonement

Always for some reason interested in what’s new in Anti-Valentine’s sentiments, I came across the listing of Atonement, a favorite movie of mine from 2007, as someone’s idea of something to watch if you’re a viewer who isn’t feeling so Valentine-y, whether now or ever.

Atonement, based on the novel by Ian McEwan, is about love, yes, but it’s actually a romance of the tragic kind—as well as a mystery of sorts.

Many who’d read the book were afraid the movie wouldn’t do it justice. Most were more than pleased with the results.

Atonement starts out in rural England, 1935. We meet 13-year-old aspiring writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan). She and her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) are of an upper crust family, whereas Cecilia’s romantic interest, Robbie (James McAvoy), has working-class roots.

Ann HornadayWashington Post: “Central to it all is Briony, who is fairly bursting with passion, ambition, anxiety and thwarted desire. The emotional muddle out of which Briony observes those around her, resulting in events that will change their lives forever, can be attributed to adolescent hormones, but also the spirit of a precocious artist coming to terms with her powerful gifts.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the initial scenes, which reveal how Briony’s youth and situational confusion heralds major trouble:

Briony is the sister of Cecilia (Knightley), who is in love with Robbie (McAvoy), though he doesn’t know it. For the first few minutes of the film, we see Cecilia and Robbie’s burgeoning passion through the hungry but uncomprehending gaze of Briony. From an upstairs window, she witnesses an odd scene that seems faintly depraved to her eyes. And then, in the first indication that this is no Jane Austen retread, the movie does something narratively innovative: It rewinds the clock by about 15 minutes and shows us the same incident from the perspective of Cecilia and Robbie. It’s much more innocent the second time.

‘Atonement’ soon turns into a film that puts viewers on the edge of their seats wanting to know what happens next. The turn comes no more than 20 minutes in, with an event that’s so compelling and surprising that no one reading this deserves to have it spoiled. (Friendly advice: Don’t read any other reviews.)

I agree. If you haven’t ever seen Atonement, skip trying to know too many details about it beforehand. It’s better that way.

How about some sweeping and brief summaries instead?

Roger Ebert: “‘Atonement’ begins on joyous gossamer wings, and descends into an abyss of tragedy and loss. Its opening scenes in an English country house between the wars are like a dream of elegance, and then a 13-year-old girl sees something she misunderstands, tells a lie and destroys all possibility of happiness in three lives, including her own.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “Ian McEwan’s beautiful novel, masterfully adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton and directed by Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’), is at its heart about language and its power: about the way a lie told by a child — inspired by a letter not intended for her eyes — changes the lives of those who hear it; and how that child later longs to make things right again…”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…(I)t’s a story of a youthful jealousy that leads to a monstrous falsehood that in turn ruins the lives of a disparate group of people, and ultimate retribution that comes decades too late.”

The trailer, of course, hints at more:

Some Brief Overall Reviews

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “It’s some kind of miracle. Written, directed and acted to perfection, Atonement sweeps you up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “On paper and on screen, ‘Atonement’ is a story of rare beauty, both wrenching and wise.”

Jack MathewsNew York Daily News: “It is an amazing story, filled with quiet moments of profundity and more surprises than you could imagine.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

Nothing comes easily in ‘Atonement,’ especially its ending, which, both happy and tragic, is as wrenching as it is genuinely satisfying.

Like McEwan, albeit with a vastly different artistic grammar, Wright casts a spell every bit as captivating as Briony’s tangled web. It’s fitting, somehow, that a novel so devoted to the precision and passionate love of language should be captured in a film that is almost too exquisite for words.