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Semi-Belated Review: Lady Bird

Before I get started, let me get this out of the way: Lady Bird is fine.  It’s fine.   I just don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s great.  It is nearly 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  Really critics?  This is the movie we’re going to single out for universal acclaim?  I dunno.

For those of you who have yet to see the film, Lady Bird is a coming of age story that follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson through her tumultuous senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California.  Over the course of the movie, Lady Bird fights with her mother, alienates her best friend, loses her virginity, and dreams of New York, before finally heading to a college on the east coast her financially strapped parents can’t afford because she really, really wants to.  Upon arriving in New York, a city she had never visited but had romanticized for years, Lady Bird – and I’m confident I’m not spoiling anything here – rediscovers the importance of home, family, and Catholicism.

And that’s it.  That’s the whole movie.  The film is populated by thinly drawn characters with limited internal lives and even more limited personal magnetism.  It takes a greatly charismatic actor to make such an unattractively self-absorbed character as Lady Bird sing.  Margo Robbie nailed it in I, Tonya.  Saoirse Ronan, on the other hand, was unequal to the task, at least in my opinion.  But hey, she was nominated for an Oscar, so what do I know?  She’s nominated for an Oscar against Meryl Streep. I’m just saying.

As you can probably tell, I’m at a bit of a loss as to why people are so high on this perfectly adequate but unremarkable movie.  Is it because it’s a coming of age movie about a girl, and there are so few of those to chose from?  Is it because people want to support a still-sadly-rare female writer/director?

I am sympathetic to both of these concerns.  Women are depressingly underrepresented as directors and writers, and our stories are often relegated to secondary character status in the narratives of men.  Still, I would argue that Lady Bird, as a female coming of age story, pales in comparison to, say, Welcome to the Dollhouse, or Ghost World, or An Education, or Pretty in Pink, just to name a few off the top of my head.  And if we’re looking to recognize a female director this year – which is a great thing, and not done often enough – why not nominate Dee Rees for Mudbound, or Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman?  Is Greta Gerwig’s work really better than either of theirs?  Or Stephen Spielberg’s, for that matter?  I dunno.  I’m not sold.

I’m left to speculate as to the attraction.  Maybe people like the mother-daughter relationship?  Or the story of female friendship?  If so, neither of these narratives were given enough screen time for to me to become fully invested.  Or maybe, as its final moments seem to indicate, it is intended as a love letter to Sacramento?  I have lived in Sacramento, California, and am familiar with nearly all of the locations on display here.  I found her vision of the town – a town which is, in its fashion, quite charming – to be flat and uninspired.

You know who I did like?  Lady Bird’s best friend Julie.  The character is an appealing outcast with a divorced mother, an absentee father, a surprising talent for theater, and few prospects for her future.  Her character’s arc was sadly neglected, often relegated to background noise in Lady Bird’s less compelling narrative.  I would totally watch Julie’s movie, and am more than a little saddened that this remarkable actress will likely struggle to find career opportunities, despite her obvious talent, because she doesn’t look like Saiorse Ronan.

To sum up:  This movie is perfectly okay.  I’m just having trouble figuring out what makes it great.  I guess that’s why I’m not a professional reviewer.


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