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


(USA 2015)

Emelie is the feature film debut of Michael Thelin, whose past work consists largely of concert films and documentaries for acts like Cee Lo Green, Stone Temple Pilots, Paramore, and Panic! at the Disco. Interestingly, he went with a thriller.

Emelie (Sarah Bolger), or “Anna,” is a sitter with a story that becomes evident over the course of her evening watching the Thompson kids, Jacob (Joshua Rush), Sally (Carly Adams), and Christopher (Thomas Blair). Emelie starts out cool enough, giving Jacob the video game his mother took from him earlier and playing dress up with Sally and Christopher. She turns dyspeptic, though, and things get ugly: she messes with their pets, shows them a porn, and leaves out a gun for them to play with. Oh yeah, and then there’s that scene with Jacob and the tampon. Emelie’s got issues, and one of the kids exposes why.

I really wanted to love this film. Clearly, a lot went into it: the plot is carefully constructed with no detail left unexplained. It looks professional, even if a bit made-for-TV. The acting, particularly the little ones, is pretty good. Bolger has a nice Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) thing going on. My issue is a technical one: ultimately Emelie is flat. Bolger is creepy and menacing but not scary or intense, and the plot fails to engage beyond a superficial level. In other words, it didn’t pull me into the action; it left me observing it passively from the audience. Disappointing for a midnight movie, I found myself not invested in the outcome. Perhaps Thelin’s next try will be better; I’d like to see more from him.

(Music Box) C



(USA 2015)

I admit, I approached Brooklyn with a certain sense of dread: a screenplay by Nick Hornby usually means a sappy chick flick. Thankfully, my expectations were not met. Sure, elements fall into the “romantic” category—it’s a period piece that involves a love story—but the material is hardly fluffy, sentimental, or unrealistic. To the contrary, Brooklyn is sharp, eloquent, and quietly observant; it gets at some simple truths in a beautifully understated yet polished way.

It’s the early 1950s, and Enniscorthy, Ireland, has nothing to offer sensible Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who bides her time housekeeping for her mother and working one day a week at a bakery for cunty town nib nose Ms. Kelly (Brid Brennan). Eilis’s more successful sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), arranges a sponsorship for her in Brooklyn, New York, where a priest (Jim Broadbent) sets her up with a job, a boarding house, and night school. Brooklyn is not what Eilis expects, and it looks as though she can’t hack it. But she soldiers on, things fall into place, and something clicks: she starts to like the life she creates for herself. She meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a second generation Italian plumber who loves the Dodgers—something Eilis can’t begin to relate to—and her life suddenly seems complete (once she learns how to eat spaghetti, of course). Her place in the world—wherever it is—is called into question when tragedy strikes at home and she returns for what’s supposed to be a short trip.

Adapted from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel, Brooklyn easily could have been an insipid film, but it’s not for a few reasons. It’s a good story. The acting is terrific all around—I can’t think of a single bad performance here. Ronan is beautiful and engaging even if Eilis initially comes off as a cold Gaelic hayseed. In the tradition of the best Irish literature, Brooklyn is crammed with excellent supporting characters. For example, Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters), the sharp-tongued Jesus-loving matriarch of the boarding house where Eilis stays, is a one-of-a-kind lady I’d kill to spend a day with—in fact, the funniest scenes take place with her holding court at the dinner table. I wouldn’t be bored with her for a second. Ditto for ship bunkmate Georgina (Eva Birthistle), who teaches Eilis how to carry herself in the New World. Jessica Paré, recognizable from Mad Men, is great as a bitchy department store supervisor. James DiGiacomo is hilarious as Tony’s little brother, especially when he talks with his hands. Jenn Murray, who looks like a low-rent Alannah Currie from the Thompson Twins, steals the few scenes she has as a “horrible” housemate. Yves Bélanger’s cinematography provides a perfectly dreamy watercolor quality that resembles a memory.

Most important, Brooklyn takes on quite a few subjects—independence, survival, assimilation, the immigrant experience, love, and yes, the American Dream. While it has a boatload to say about each, at its heart Brooklyn is about identity: home has nothing to do with where you were born or where you grew up, but everything to do with where you can be who you are. This theme, intricately woven throughout the film, is what ultimately makes Brooklyn stand out. Do I think it will win Best Picture? Hell no. But it’s a film I can see a second time—maybe even a third.

(AMC River East) B