2 posts categorized "Coming-of-Age"

December 07, 2017

LADY BIRD — REVISITED

The Millennial Conformist

Or How to Learn to Love Stupidity Without Really Trying

LADY BIRD REVISITED

BY COLE SMITHEY

Since being drawn toward the magnetic Tomatometer to give “Lady Bird” a better grade than this flawed film deserved I’ve been watching and discussing French Films (“Le Samorai,” “My Golden Days,” “Murmur of the Heart,” “Rendez-Vous,” and “Les Valseuses”) with my podcast partner Mike Lacy on our series LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST). Context, it’s always there. Each of these French films blow “Lady Bird” out of the water. French Cinema is reliable. Watching “Lady Bird” in the midst of such powerful films was a lesson in hack work vs. quality Cinema. Admittedly, it took a second viewing of "Lady Bird" to catch the part where Greta Gerwig breaks an essential rule of dramaturgy regarding reliable protagonists. Saoirse Ronan's character is reliably unreliable in this department. 

Lady Bird

In preparation for our podcast discussion of “Lady Bird,” I went to my local 86th Street cinema on the Upper East Side and watched Greta Gerwig's over-hyped movie a second time. I discovered a litany of bogus character traits for the title character that paint a picture of an entitled, conniving, cheating, vapid, disloyal, snotty, conformist white girl going through a phony personality crisis so she can put-on her next “Basic” (à la “Ingrid Goes West”) identity as one more white female college student in New York City with rocks in her head. 

Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) objectives of getting laid and going to college far away from her parents are the plot engines that drive the film’s narrative.

A red flag goes up during the opening of the movie when Lady Bird jumps from the speeding car her mom is driving because she (Lady Bird) can’t handle having the conversation. Lady Bird isn’t just immature; she’s suicidal. Still, no psychiatric exam, therapy, or medication follows for our manic (possibly bi-polar or manic depressive) high school student with a nasty attitude. You might expect a serious response from a mom (Laurie Metclaf) who works as a shrink, but you will be sorely disappointed.

A cast on her broken arm is all Lady Bird needs to judge Danny (Lucas Hedges), a closeted gay boy she briefly dates before abandoning him after catching him kissing another boy. It will [ostensibly] take a few years for Christine (Lady Bird) to purchase her LGBT glasses. In the meantime it's just the "Me, me, me, me, me" all-day song).

She goes on to dump her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) in favor of hanging out with insufferable preps. 

Lady Bird gives up on the school play because she has no patience for Danny's burgeoning sexuality. Never mind that Danny and the school play are the most interesting things Lady Bird has going on in her life. She doesn't have any sense of loyalty to her own best friend. She is a dolt who also happens to be a poor judge of character.

Oh, and the whole poverty thing, it's just a ruse. Who is anyone kidding? This family is not poor in any real definition of the word. The girl goes to a private school for crying out loud.

Lady bird

The fact that Lady Bird prefers “dry-humping” to penetration could be a potential deal-breaker for some would-be suitors.

The biggest coincidence between my own history with grading this movie comes after Lady Bird steals and ditches her teacher’s notebook containing all of his class records. Lady Bird’s expulsion-taunting subterfuge allows her and her fellow students to tell the teacher his or her current grade based on the honor system. Lady Bird lies in order to squeak her grade from a “C+ or a B-“ to a B. It is this precise lie that allows Lady Bird to get into college. You couldn’t exactly call Lady Bird a model student, “bad animal” is more like it. She isn't even a narcissist for a good cause; Lady Bird's super-objective is to be the ultimate conformist. Her taste in music speaks volumes. Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews tells you all you need to know.

The story is set in 2002, before there were surveillance cameras everywhere. If Lady Bird pulled such a stunt in 2017, she’d be expelled from school and going to community college in her parents’ back yard.

So it is that narrative cracks spread far and wide in our anti-heroine of limited ethical and intellectual abilities. Lady Bird earns our disrespect when she insults her Ivy League-graduated step-brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) after being accepted into UC Davis. Rather than being happy about getting accepted into such a respected college, Lady Bird throws a spoiled brat temper tantrum and tells Miguel that the only reason he got accepted into Harvard was because he was a minority. Miguel rightfully calls Lady Bird a “racist,” as the film goes permanently off the rails. Why is the audience being asked to empathize with a racist? There's something fishy going on here.

Ladybird

Nobody can say all that they know. There are many more defects in "Lady Bird" than I have mentioned here, but alas those secrets are safe with me since I'm evidently the only film critic around who sees "Lady Bird" for the misguided film it is.

I suspect that many audiences who return to "Lady Bird" will be disappointed at how the movie stands up on a second viewing. It's a much worse movie the second time around, I promise you.  

Let there be no confusion about my grading of “Lady Bird.” It is a movie that fails on the most important level of maintaining empathy with its faux non-conformist protagonist of dubious intent. The film's failings are masked by an obtuse use of music, quick-cutting, and some over-leveraged emotional gesturing between the mother and daughter to play to a viewer’s heartstring as the lasting theme of the movie. Deceit is the actual theme of the movie.

Don’t believe me? Watch “Lady Bird” twice and you will see everything I’ve expressed here. If I had it to do all over again, I’d give “Lady Bird” a D minus. 

LADY BIRD: BAD ANIMAL — THE SUPERCUT 

If you didn't think Lady Bird was the most Trumpian character in the history of Cinema, you will certainly be convinced after watching this video.

LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) PODCAST

Mike holds Cole's feet to the fire as Cole lays out character flaw after character flaw for Saoirse Ronan's asinine persona in what is already one of the most overrated films of all time.

MAGIC HAT BREWING'S #9 provided a nice buzz to the discussion. You can read the print essay (THE MILLENNIAL CONFORMIST — OR HOW TO LEARN TO LOVE STUPIDITY WITHOUT REALLY TRYING), watch the video essay, and listen to the podcast. Since Cole is the only film critic to spell out "Lady Bird's" flaws, at least he doesn't hold back. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and follow us on SOUNDCLOUD. And tell your friends! 

Lady Bird

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

My original review follows.

 

Ladybirdposter

Although dramatically flat, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age directorial debut covers its Mumblecore tracks with jabs of humor and a breeze of earthy authenticity.Set in Sacramento, California (Gerwig’s hometown), the story focuses on the fraught relationship between Lady Bird (a.k.a. Christine — played by Saoirse Ronan) and her overworked mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), whose emotions run hot or cold. Marion’s Scorpio tendencies are exacerbated by the family’s unemployed father Larry (wonderfully played by Tracy Letts in a thankless role).

The armpit city of Sacramento will forever be indebted to Greta Gerwig for making it seem like a much better place than it is to live.  

Lady-bird

It’s Lady Bird’s senior year at a private Catholic girls’ high school from which our self-named heroine attempts to assert as much independence as her small town surroundings will allow, which is to say more than any kid living in 2017 should expect.

Participating in the school play sets up a romantic endeavor with Lucas Hedges’s Danny, a boy with a secret. Talk about being mad about the wrong boy, Lady Bird is no judge of character or of sexual affiliation.

Lady bird

Other social opportunities arrive as predictable let-downs for our girl-with-a-problem. Even losing her virginity occurs with a whimper. Lady Bird (“Amelie” reference — check) wants/needs to get as far away from her mother, and Sacramento, as possible. You can’t blame her one bit.

But to be clear, "Lady Bird" is far from a perfect film, it's just not the mumblecore disaster you'd expect from Greta Gerwig — one of the mumblecore movement's prime progenitors. There are dozens of coming-of-age films that far outweigh this lightweight contender. Think "Kes" or "Murmur of the Heart." Greta Gerwig has a long way to go as a filmmaker before she can pretend to approach a Ken Loach or a Louis Malle, much less Céline Sciamma's tour de force "Girlhood" from 2015.

Lady

If Lady Bird were true to her character, she'd never speak to her mother again after asking mom for the "number" that represents the amount of money she spent raising her so that she (Lady Bird) can pay her back and have nothing to do with her ever again. Lady Bird's mom earned that amount of disgust from her daughter; she deserved it. Lady Bird doesn't have the courage of her convictions after all. If ever there was a signature mumblecore trait, this is it.

"Lady Bird" is a mediocre film about moving toward institutional conformity. I the words of the poet/singer/author Jim Carroll, "It ain't no contribution to rely on the institution to validate your chosen art or to sanction your boredom and let you play out your part."

Rated R. 94 mins. (C+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

This review was amended on 1/24/18. COMING SOON — THE LADY BIRD EPISODE OF LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST) PODCAST where I explain why "Lady Bird" really deserves a D.

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts.

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

PATREON BUTTON

September 17, 2014

MISUNDERSTOOD (INCOMPRESA) — NYFF 2014

LincompresaAsia Argento’s third film as director finds her excavating the messy ground of a coming-of-age story about Aria, a 9-year-old Italian girl. Giulia Salerno’s winning portrayal of Aria, a young girl torn between separated wealthy and semi-famous parents (dad is a film actor and mom is a concert pianist), is the film’s strongest ingredient. But however compelling Salerno’s performance, it only goes so far toward compensating for an episodic script without a significant arc.

Aria flits between stay-overs with her narcissistic father (Gabriel Garko) and romantically immature mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Her father’s hot and cold temperament causes him to reject Aria just as quickly as he extends affection. Mom’s reliably unreliable suitors aren’t the kind of men you’d leave your child alone with.

Colesmithey.com

From a visual perspective, production designer Eugenia F. di Napoli uses bold primary colors reminiscent of the colorful look of Argento’s much-loved father Dario Argento’s giallo horror films. The effect frequently overpowers the dramatic nature of the story.

In its off-putting climax, co-screenwriter Barbara Alberti reneges on the narrative’s playful tone with a character-breaking crisis decision that leaves the audience with a pit in its stomach, and no hope for Aria’s limited future.
“Misunderstood” is a movie that fails to shine any ostensibly promised light on the plight of a little girl who comes to take her problems far too seriously for her age.

Colesmithey.com

Not Rated. 103 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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