I like to think that Lady Bird is a little bit like the writer-director Greta Gerwig herself: charming, quirky, capable, and maybe, as the kids say these days, a bit extra.
The teenager’s coming of age is a perfectly enjoyable film that deftly covers plenty of the rising and falling action of major teen desires and dramas: Can I get into the college of my choice? Will my parents get off my back? Will I find love? Will I find friends? Who am I?
My pick for best picture and director (though it likely won’t win those), and original screenplay. How long has it been that any movie has tapped the cultural zeitgeist like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”? Though others have remarked that the movie isn’t a direct reaction to Trump, considering it was written before he announced he was running for president, “Get Out” nonetheless is a reaction to what has been labelled “Trumpism,” which I think just means nativist racism. There are probably spoilers below, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet—it came out more than a year ago—go see it!
The story centers on a black man in New York City who agrees to visit the upstate home of his white girlfriend’s parents. The British actor Daniel Kaluuya gives a breakout performance as Chris. He is at once warm, easygoing, and open—traits that allow the audience to quickly take his side, especially when he asks his girlfriend if her parents know he’s black and she says no. His eyes are very expressive, from the glint of joy, to furrows of worry, and tears of terror. He carries the film, and his Oscar nomination for best actor is well deserved. Unfortunately for him, he’s going up against heavy-hitters Daniel Day Lewis and Denzel Washington, and the likely winner Gary Oldman, whose won a SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe for his role as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”
Writer-director Christopher Nolan has created some of the most memorable cinematic moments: the effect of the near-permanent daylight on a LA detective in Insomnia; the slippage of time between places created by a wormhole in Interstellar; the three-action-sequences-at-once in Inception; and the backwards in time unwinding of the plot of Memento. What these all have in common is a concern with time and how it functions—through the duration of a film, on the characters, and on the audience.
Though I have come to think of Nolan’s films as having great ideas, if not always satisfactory stories (the love conquers time as central to the plot of Interstellar, for example, felt like a let down), I was still eager to see Dunkirk. That the film’s running time was an hour less than Interstellar also helped.
Sure, the world-building could’ve been stronger (more on that later), and it would’ve been nice to see more of Jacoby’s back story, but there’s a lot of good in the movie. Great performances by Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, and, yes, that it is a loud, ungainly, expensive, bizarre buddy-cop movie. For an escapist flick, it is different and an altogether enjoyable ride.
What drives the story isn’t so much the buddy-cop angle with wondering if an Orc can get along as the first Orc in the Los Angeles Police Department; rather, it is the presence of terrorists, a rogue Elf, the hunt for a powerful wand, and the possible return of The Dark Lord. If you don’t think too much about it, and let the movie’s strangeness wash over you, it is a fine cinematic time.
The problem with the movie is that it is both too much and not enough. Perhaps this is a fault of marketing that foregrounded the Orc-Human buddy-cop angle, and not enough of how it is really a chase movie through a world that is both familiar and strange.
A moment from when I was in college: A group of teens in hoodies, torn jeans, fake leather jackets on a warm fall day sit on a sidewalk in Evanston not far from a busy shopping street near the lake.
As I approach where those kids are, an older woman coming from the opposite direction eyes those kids hard and says loud enough for me to hear, “It looks like the ‘60s, hanging out. Boy you have a lot to live up to.”
“Up to?” I say, not knowing what she meant but wondering what it was that that generation left us to grow up with Ronald Reagan, cuts to taxes, and cuts to welfare, and leaving to a sudden rise in homelessness and people on the street. I was also thinking about a research paper I had just done about the underground press of the 1960s, the flourishing of a counter-cultural literature and how the FBI infiltrated it by creating their own underground presses, and how most of the magazines died out, though a few became alternative newsweeklies. That, to me at that time, was what the ‘60s was—a flowering, a wilting, a fading away.
The woman looked at me like I was crazy, or maybe she was crazy, saying “Up to? Up to? Up to?” to me as she walked away. (The kids, by the way, just sat there and watched this all unfold—a silly sideshow to whatever it was they were up to that day.)
That moment came back to mind when I recently saw the Broadway production of the play “The Children” at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in Manhattan. It features the same crew from the Royal Court production: directed by James Macdonald; and starring Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay. The play is written by Lucy Kirkwood.