Lady Bird (2017): Simply Wonderful (Review)

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It is inconceivable that this splendid little “feel good” film was excluded, nay snubbed, at The Golden Globes. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is, quite simply, wonderful. Starring Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird, along with the delightful and talented Laurie Metcalf as the teen’s passive aggressive mum, the film is a coming of age story set in a Catholic school in Sacramento. 

While Lady Bird never quite lives up to the comedic promise of that opening scene in the car, it does go on to deliver a steady stream of low-key humour,  a little heart-break and some well timed pathos. Metcalf and Ronan make a delightful double-act and Tracy Letts (as the big hearted dad) steps in, as needed, to spread a little love to both combatants. 

Writer and director Gerwig addresses a lot of teen issues in this dramedy. Sexuality, losing one’s virginity, living on the wrong side of the middle-class divide, unemployment and trying desperately to grow “away” from one’s parents. None of these subjects are earth shatteringly original or ground breaking but they are delivered expertly and adorably by Ronan as the girl who wants to soar above her socially placed limits.

There is not doubt that this is Ronan’s film. She rules each and every scene she is in. However major kudos need to be given to Lucas Hedges – Lady Bird’s first love interest, Beanie Feldstein; who plays the best friend and if Metcalf does not snag a little golden fella come award time for her performance as Lady Bird’s mum, there is something definitely rotten going on in the Academy.

Lady Bird allows us into the main character’s world and her determination to head back east for her further education. She submits applications to colleges in New York on the sly, with help from her dad while she rushes to complete her last year of high school and break free of her lower middle class bonds.

We are privy to her foray into love, her first: School play, job and her acceptance into the upper echelons of Sacramento society. She becomes friends with rich girl Jenna Walton (played by Odeya Rush, who looks eerily like a young Mila Kunis) while turning her back on her old bff.

Lady Bird may not be Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical tale, but it gives us a taste of what she finds fascinating. She gives us a character who is, according to a Rolling Stone interview, a combination of underachiever and dreamer who dares to exceed her own wildest expectations.

Christine snacks on unconsecrated communion wafers with her bestie Julie and pranks the nun headmaster by putting a just married sign on her car. She steals a teacher’s grade book and then lies about her math grade to get a better score. She falls in love (twice) and buys all the things she has been forbidden to have when she turns 18.

Rebellion may be the catchword here, but it is pretty tame. This is what makes the character of Lady Bird so endearing and we cheer her brief, somewhat timid, trips into the abyss. The film is a firm 4 star venture that gives us a heroine we can get behind and a protagonist we understand.

Catch this one as quick as you can, the Golden Globes may have snubbed this simply wonderful film but one can be sure that the Academy will not. Movies like this one go a long way toward proving that Hollywood is a long way from being finished.

Byzantium (2012): Practically Perfect Irish Horror

Gemma Arterton in Byzantium
Were it not for the fact that this film was titled Byzantium, this 2012 movie could have been titled Perfection as this Irish horror tale is a dark “Mary Poppins,” in other words “practically perfect in every way.” This melancholic vampire story leaves the fangs and the long cloaks behind as it follows Eleanor Webb and her mother Clara through a journey of discovery for both the eternally young Ellie and her mother.

Directed by Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto, End of the Affair) and starring Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement), Sam Riley (Maleficent, The Dark Valley) and Johnny Lee Miller (Dark Shadows, Elementary) and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral, Contraband) Byzantium is a dark, slow, melodic tale that moves through time and distance to mesmerize the viewer.

The film starts with Eleanor (Ronan) writing her life story page by page and then crumpling the pages into a ball and throwing them into the wind. An old man has been collecting the pages and he calls to her. Later, she kills him by drinking his blood. At roughly the same time, her mother Clara (Arterton), aka Claire is working as a lap dancer in a seedy club downtown.

After being fired for stealing a customer’s wallet and then assaulting him, she is followed by a man who says he has been looking for her for a long time. She kills him and later comes back with Eleanor to burn the place and his corpse. The two move to another town, a seaside town, where Eleanor says they have been before.

The film moves backward and forward as Eleanor recounts her life, she compulsively writes and rewrites her story throwing the tale away until she gives it to a new friend, Frank (Jones) who is dying of Leukemia. The 200 year-old teenager meets Frank at a hotel dining room where she plays the piano, he “passes the hat” for her “are you busking?” he asks her before she leaves. He later gives her the collected cash and she runs off.

Clara meets a lonely man down by the seaside arcade (she charges him £50 for a “blowy”) and invites herself and Eleanor back to his place, a sort of bed and breakfast that his mother owned before she died. Clara sets the place up as a bordello to help Noel get out of debt. Eleanor’s story about becoming a vampire relates that her mother started out as a whore, set off in that life by Capt. Ruthven (Miller).

As Eleanor and Clara settle in the seaside town, two men are searching for them, Darvell (Riley) and Savella, played by Uri Gavriel (The Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises) who look like police but are from Clara’s past. These two have searching for the two female vampire for centuries.

The tale of how Eleanor’s mother is created, first as a whore then a vampire, is spellbinding and feels like a twisted Dickensian tale. A chance meeting while gathering cockles turns the young Clara’s life upside down and begins her dark journey after one military officer gives her a pearl and the other takes her virginity.

Byzantium has very nontraditional vampires. Not created by the classic exchange of blood, in this world a demon is searched out on a bleak island, and there are no fangs, instead a long almost tear shaped thumbnail makes the necessary incisions. The vampires can walk in the daylight and are not cold to the touch. Both Eleanor and Clara are the only female vampires in the world and they are hunted not by a version of Van Helsing but by male vampires.

At just over two hours this film should drag but it does not. It is a delight to watch and the cinematography is addictive. Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, The Place Beyond the Pines) gives the viewer exquisitely framed shots and uses lighting to accentuate every scene beautifully. Arterton holds her own against Ronan, who narrates the film, and if ever there was any doubt that this “Bond girl” could act, this film proves it.

Byzantium is a 5 star beguiling feature that lures the viewer in and seduces them completely. A new favorite and worth all 128 minutes spent watching it, the film is available on Hulu.

Watch this film and prepare to become addicted.