Lady Bird

(USA 2017)

“You should just go to City College. You know, with your work ethic, just go to City College and then to jail and then back to City College. And then maybe you’d learn to pull yourself up and not expect everybody to do everything.”

— Marion McPherson

“Lady Bird always says that she lives in on the wrong side of the tracks, but I always thought that that was like a metaphor, but there are actual train tracks.”

— Danny

“You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.”

— Kyle

Lady Bird is not Greta Gerwig’s first time directing; she codirected an earlier film, Nights and Weekends, in 2008. I never heard of that one. However, Lady Bird is her first solo gig, as well as her first hit. I wanted to catch it at the Chicago International Film Festival, but it was impossible to get tickets.

I’ve now seen it in its commercial release. Saoirse Ronan is Christine McPherson, an angsty, unpopular, and rather nerdy but self-assured Catholic high school senior who’s christened herself “Lady Bird.” She lives in a modest home literally “on the wrong side of the tracks” with her parents, her underachiever older brother (Jordan Rodrigues) who graduated from a “good” university but still works as a cashier in a grocery store, and his wife (Marielle Scott).

Christine wants a bigger life than the one she has in Sacramento, and she plans to get it by going away to college. Her perpetually crabby mother (Laurie Metcalf) is not exactly supportive, and her disposition gets worse when her father (Tracy Letts) loses his job.

Set in 2002, Lady Bird is a string of funny and touching episodes about growing up in a lower middle class Catholic home: sex, fitting in, rebellion, and of course Catholicism. I laughed out loud, and did so a lot. Gerwig wrote and directed it, and it’s a solid film even it rings a little familiar. She’s more observant of her characters’ behavior than creating some big dramatic experience. Lady Bird is structured like a lot of teen comedies I’ve seen before, but the acting is good enough to elevate it to a higher level and make it a bit more interesting. More adult, too.

As some friends have pointed out, the main character — Christine — is a refreshing break from the Hollywood archetype of a teenage girl we’ve all seen for more than 30 years now: she’s not a mean girl, a witch, or a slut. This is true, and a big plus here. Still, as much as I enjoyed Lady Bird, I don’t get the awards buzz over it.

With Danny O’Neill, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, John Karna, Jake McDorman, Bayne Gibby, Laura Marano, Fr. Paul Keller, Myra Turley, Bob Stephenson, Joan Patricia O’Neill, Carla Valentine, Roman Arabia

Production: Scott Rudin Productions, Entertainment 360, IAC Films

Distribution: A24 (USA), Elevation Pictures (Canada), United International Pictures (UIP) (international), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (international)

94 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) B

http://ladybird.movie

The Nice Guys

(USA 2016)

Last year’s Inherent Vice disappointed me; I dug its ’70s Venice Beach vibe, but I found the story choppy and its execution ultimately lackluster—unforgivable for a film with arguably the best all-star cast in years. Little did I know walking into the theater that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is exactly what I hoped for with Inherent Vice: an unapologetically dippy and fun action retro-comedy with stylish sets, cool clothes, and a rad soundtrack. Shallow? Maybe. But I enjoyed The Nice Guys a lot more; like old MTV, it’s a fluffy guilty pleasure.

Los Angeles, 1977: Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a detective—the world’s worst, by his own admission—down on his luck. Amid jobs like the senile widow looking for her missing husband—his ashes are in an urn on the mantle—March is hired by the aunt (Lois Smith) of a dead porn actress, Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio); she claims her niece just visited her, and she wants him to find her. After a run-in with thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and a trail that leads to a girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) and an “experimental” skin flick called How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy, March joins forces with Healy to solve a mystery that brings them right to the heart of the porn and auto industries.

The Nice Guys is a treat all around. No one thing carries this film; it’s a successful combination of multiple elements. The story and tone—a mix of the aforementioned Inherent Vice, Lethal Weapon (also by Black), and Boogie Nights with a whiff of Scooby Doo—is surprisingly cohesive, absorbing, and entertaining. Where Lethal Weapon‘s Martin and Roger are buddies, March and Healy are “frienemies:” the former is as drunkenly and sweetly inept as the latter is soberly and brutally efficient. It works; Gosling and Crowe, who looks like John Goodman these days, have a solid chemistry. It’s fun to see them both in something light, and they seem to have a good time here. I never thought of Gosling as a comedic actor, but his timing is great—my favorite scene is Healy busting into the men’s room stall on him. March gets by thanks in large part to his teenaged daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), who serves as a voice of reason even as he corrects her grammar. Matt Bomer makes a brief, creepy, and violent cameo as John Boy, a hitman with a big mole on his face—anyone familiar with The Waltons no doubt will get the reference right away. Kim Basinger is a welcome surprise as a hard, all-business federal agent. The whole thing ends in a crazy choreograped sequence involving a film canister.

Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is snappy, with vivid colors that shine though even during the night scenes. The Nice Guys depicts a sleazy era of Los Angeles in a cheeky, over-the-top way—a time I would have loved to have seen it. This is not a film that takes itself seriously—it seems to revel in its frivolity. Seeing it over Memorial Day weekend was a great way to kick off the summer movie season. Indulge, I say.

116 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B-

http://www.theniceguysmovie.com