Lady Bird

Lady Bird ★★★★★

There’s plenty worth talking about, but two things jump out at me. So, before I get to those, some stray notes. Gerwig is maybe not precisely the directing wunderkind that she is the screenwriter, but she’s maybe the major find in that regard this decade so that’s not saying much and she certainly has an intuitive, caring eye, to say the least; she leaves more indelible lines than images, but leaves plenty of both. Ronan continues to, as well, be one of this decade’s major acting talents, even in a performance that ends up being completely unlike anything I’ve seen her do. My biggest reservation, probably, is a score that hits some bum and cutesy notes, but it’s certainly singular and I definitely appreciate that at all moments.

So. Basically both of my major thoughts about this movie are related to Mike D’Angelo’s major complaints about it. They’re not rebuttals to him, I don’t really enjoy that take on film criticism or discussion, as if I’m going out on a limb here to tell him he’s wrong, but I think they both represent the most reasonable reservations about the movie.

One, there’s a very straightforward, arch quality to a lot of this movie’s Big Moments. A predictable quality, even. I don’t think this was even vaguely by accident, though, and I think the perfect display of that is this movie’s use of Crash Into Me. It’s a ridiculously un-hip song to anchor big emotional ideas to, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a song of big emotions and those are the songs that resonate with a fierceness as you’re going through the moments that match that bigness. It’s the same quality that led the Wachowski sisters/Tykwer to choose What’s Up? in the first season of Sense8, and it’s an emotional register that teenagers live in on an almost constant basis. It’s a kind of song I have to imagine 90% of us must have had, at least.

Because that’s what, who, this movie is about. D’Angelo specifically shouts out how Frances Ha executes similar moments with a lot more subtlety and I 100% agree. But I think it’s a feature, not a defect. All three of Gerwig’s major penned works so far are about women in transitional periods and it’s no wonder the most advanced period of those feels expressive of a more developed person. And likewise, that the youngest of them, even when she’s learning that she is not even nearly the only person who has shaped the person she is, still wants to make it a moment that proves, if only to herself, how much she’s changed.

So, there’s a juvenile quality to the movie, but one I would argue is perfectly expressive of its main figure. Even without that taken into account, though, I’d disagree with any take on this that equates those big feelings with a simpler, less accomplished screenplay. Screenplays are often simplified down to their events and the words said, but Gerwigs’s genius is how she harnesses every dimension of hers, in conversations that legibly overlap with one another, in the way her ideas and tones gracefully swing from one to the next. Gerwig flattens the passage of time in a way that lets every second worth treasuring slip away, and in kind shows what Christine doesn’t realize she’ll treasure years on in what it omits or rushes through. She both mires us enough im Christine’s world to be frustrated in how her mother relates to her, all the while slowly developing the reciprocal relationship and giving her the movie’s emotional climax.

And it’s that mother that exhibits the other thing I want to talk about. She’s vividly conceived, both in her attempts to do her best for Christine and in how often that presents as passive aggressive sniping. Metcalf is excellent, of course, registering most as pent up in a way that reads really true for what it must be like to not quite know how to do best by your kid. The point of talking about her, though, is that I think there’s a fairly decent case to be made that there’s a manipulative element to this film. As D’Angelo puts it, the final scene is “so didactic that it practically dials your mother for you and holds the phone up to your ear.” Again, I pretty much agree.

I am totally on board for being frustrated with movies that feel manipulative, that feel like they’re trying to push something on you. It’s something I especially feel with stuff like nature docs and movies about social issues, even ones I agree with. I think what I find so frustrating about that, though, at least myself, is because they’re pushing so hard on something you can’t really do anything about, so why bother. No one of us can fix global warming, no one of us is going to fix the political ills of our time. Not even if everyone who reads this review, ever, all synergetically worked toward that goal could we change the world, not in my view at least.

You know what you can do, though? Appreciate everything your mother has done for you a little more.

Side note that I want to be so so clear, so I’m going to give it it’s own segment: I am not saying that this is a unilateral truth. It’s completely possible for a mother to not be worth appreciating or have done things not worth forgiving, and if that situation is yours then you’re under no obligation to, as I’ve just said, appreciate everything your mother has done.

There are more important, resonant, and artful things that I think art can do, perhaps, but something I think is true of Gerwig’s three major films so far is that they aim to bring a positive good to the world. To be something that we see and then reflect on our own similar relationships, to appreciate how they’ve shaped us and try to finally grasp how they’ll keep on shaping us. That’s something I’ve come to respect a lot in the past year, an earned happy ending. There’s a perception that truly artful things can’t embrace positivity like that, I think, that at most they can be bittersweet or almost invariably risk being slight. Gerwig, now, is one of film’s patron saints proving that wrong.

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