Friday, March 2, 2018

Film: Lady Bird

(spoiler alerts contained within this post)

Greta Gerwig’s (Frances Ha, To Rome with Love) directorial debut is captivating. Stephen Colbert, according to Entertainment magazine, presented Gerwig with the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in a comedy or musical, and called it “heartbreaking” and “heart opening.” Autobiographical in nature, it is a realistic coming of age story with painful, though probably not unusual, experiences of finding out your first love is gay, or losing your virginity to a guy who doesn’t really care about you, or discovering the longed for popular crowd is not all that appealing after all. (the

Most painful for me to watch is Ladybird (Saoirse Ronan)’s relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf, TV series Roseanne, Nora in A Doll’s House) and to be reminded of the terrible things parents say to their children: “You don’t think of anyone but yourself!” [We see daily in our offices the results of such disregard by parents of their children.] Metcalf plays a psychiatric nurse -- a professional choice which perhaps saved her from becoming “an abusive alcoholic” as her own mother was -- who repeatedly puts Ladybird down, yet she also alters her prom dress, rescues a homeless teen, shares in the joy of her colleagues’ parenthoods, and speaks in a frank manner answering questions about sex. [The contradictory experience of one’s mother and one’s ambivalence must be excruciatingly confusing for a child.]

Illustrating a dilemma common to both therapist and patient (that of accepting the other --or self-- just the way one is, while also holding out hope for a ‘better’ other/ self) Metcalf says, “I just want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.” And Ronan retorts, both in defiance and fear, “What if this is the best version?” Others describe Metcalf’s character as “fiercely loving” but I just saw her as mean, though understandable, mean as a result of her worries and frustrations.

Last year, another semi-autobiographical coming of age story, Moonlight, deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Atonement) won Golden Globe for Best Actress in comedy or musical for her performance in Ladybird, playing the truculent teenager. [Ronan is 23 in real life -- so not so distant a past to conjure, whereas Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday or Tom Hanks in Big had to dig deeper to recall]. There are funny, Catholic school memories such as the admonishment by a nun separating boys and girls on the dance floor: “Six inches for the Holy Spirit,” inadvertently conjuring up the fabled average length of a penis while trying to keep the dancers chaste.

Ladybird’s dad (Tracy Letts), oblivious at the breakfast table, struggles with his own depression after having been laid off, but can be tender, bringing a candled cupcake to awaken Ladybird on her birthday. This film deals with delicate issues, secrets and their consequent shame, be it the stigma of depression in Father Levine or fear of the reactions of others should a gay teen come out of the closet. I recommend this film without reservation, but still think Three Billboards (Post Dec 12, 2017) deserves the Oscar, [with Lady Bird awarded Bronze, losing maybe by seven hundredths of a second].

After leaving the theater, I felt sad that mothers speak to their daughters that way, and also thought, in my professional experience, that -- the one unrealistic portion of the film, IMO-- daughters do not express gratitude so quickly or so easily. My older daughter loved this film -- it speaks to her generation -- and she thinks it should win Best Picture, but, I remember, she also forgave me my shortcomings very quickly.

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