LADY BIRD (2017, Greta Gerwig)
If I had seen this movie in April or something, upon a quiet release, the tone of this review might be warmer. I’d still give it a 6, but I wouldn’t dwell on the negatives, which I’m warning you now I’m about to do. It’s just that the conversation around it now happens to be connected to award season, high critical consensus, and fawning praise over a debut people are heralding as some sort of masterwork. Thus, my reaction is to that, which naturally inspires a little heavy lean towards the critical in order to restore some sort of balance to a wildly overrated trifle.
At around 90 minutes, it feels like the first three episodes of a sitcom on Showtime — that isn’t any kind of evaluative judgment of the respective mediums of film and television; it’s just an observation that it might as well have begun episodes earlier or extended for more. The start and stop feel arbitrary despite the obvious character arc and final salutation of gratitude. But aesthetically, it also has the feel of something that’s more functional and less creative — far too many compositions are dull medium shots with flat lighting; the blocking and editing competent but never surprising or challenging. Gerwig’s script shares a DNA with the observant, whip-smart talent she brought to FRANCES HA, but let’s not start comparing her directing skills to Soderbergh or anything.
And at times the dialogue shows off in a way that betrays certain scenes and milieus. It’s funny that the driving instructor says “this isn’t really a thanking situation: you either pass or you fail,” but it also puts the pen ahead of the material, reminding us there’s more of an author here than there is a real world.
But the strength of this, and what ultimately makes everything about LADY BIRD triumph over its Sundance clichés and predictable story beats, is the cast. As the anchor, Ronan is razor-sharp and likable without ever asking for affection — she almost dares you to find her character grating but knows you never will. Metcalf is every bit her equal as the mother, reminding audiences that between this and her show-stopping episode of HORACE & PETE, she’s an actor far too underserved by Hollywood. Not to be outdone, Lucas Hedges continues to show how skilled he is at making every teenage boy he plays feel like someone you know rather than someone who has been written for you.
And then there’s Timothée Chalamet. I had no idea he’d be in this, and I’m about 72 hours fresh off seeing CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. If you got sick of me praising him in that, stop reading now. This kid is Tom Cruise. Cruise’s star wattage shone so bright in RISKY BUSINESS that you just knew he was the kind of movie star who only came around once a generation. I also assumed he’d be the last of his kind. But Chalamet is just that impressive — watch the way he says “that’s hella tight” in reaction to Ladybird telling him about the nun van prank. In three words you know everything he’s about (not to mention the kind of range Chalamet has, given that this kid is worlds removed from Elio). Gerwig may not be a great director yet, but you can’t be a great director unless you can allow for great acting, and with what she gets from so many people here, at least we know she has the potential.