Film Review Lady Bird

Cool Poster Lady Bird.jpg

Lady Bird was a cool movie. A fun movie. A nice way to pass an evening. Decent performances, some witty dialogue. Essentially the obligatory “coming of age” movie of the year. What Lady Bird is not, is “Big-Screen Perfection” – New York Times, “Remarkable” – IGN, or “Nothing short of tremendous” – Paste Magazine. It was more special than some coming of age films, and not as special as others. It was unique in some ways and cliched in others. Saoirse Ronan puts in a fine performance – she did just enough to be quirky and endearing, while still reminding you that she was an annoying teenager still trying to feel out her place in the world. Is it worthy of an Oscar nomination? Refer to my review of Molly’s Game and Jessica Chastain’s performance which went unrecognised. Laurie Metcalf on the other hand, who plays her mother Marion McPherson, is more than deserving of her nomination. She has fantastic lines, which she delivers with whip and wit. The two of them play off each other fantastically and all credit must go to writer Greta Gerwig for giving them some superb material to work with.

The originality of this piece as a coming of age tale lies in the mother-daughter relationship between Ronan and Metcalf. As much as they love each other, they struggle to understand one another and to effectively communicate. As Lady Bird’s dad says they “both have such strong personalities”. Lady Bird, whose real name is Christine, gave herself this name as an act of rebellion at having to go along with whatever name your parents give you. They are constantly at odds, disagreeing over almost everything. Marion is hypercritical of her daughter, often putting her down rather than encouraging her, and for all her defiance, all Lady Bird really wants is acceptance, which she equates with love.

My favourite scene is undoubtedly when Lady Bird is trying on prom dresses and of course nothing her mom says is right and Lady Bird asks, “Do you like me?”. Her mom responds, “Of course I love you.” To which Lady Bird replies, “I know you love me, but do like me?” This really resonated with me. The idea of obligatory love, and how it doesn’t necessitate like, is very hurtful and something that has always been close to the surface with me personally. Her mom follows this up with “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be”. To which Lady Bird replies sadly, “What if this is the best version?” I can really relate to this, not just as a teenager, but even now, and so I found this scene very poignant and relevant.

The rest of the movie was very run of the mill teenage stuff. An unwavering dedication to get into college on the other side of the country (against her mother’s wishes), a strong determination to lose her virginity, a fallout with her best friend, feeling out of place (in this case due to class and being a bit weird), finding out the things you think are life’s biggest problems aren’t all that big in the greater scheme of things, finding out you aren’t the centre of the universe, having your heart broken (twice), getting back together with your best friend, and finally going away to college. You know, your typical high school senior’s experience. Just with better dialogue and superior acting performances.

Now for the knit picking. Because when the cinematic world has declared something to be earth shattering and ground-breaking when it was merely excellent and highly enjoyable, you open yourself up to scrutiny that I would otherwise have let slide. I’m going to start with a comparison and the grand hypocrite that is Hollywood and the world in general: When a movie as flawlessly put together as Three Billboards is being lambasted for not handling race issues appropriately, why are we heaping praise on a film that is essentially about “white girl problems” and very little else and not mentioning the fact that there are absolutely NO black characters? This is something critics jumped down Martin McDonagh’s throat for – yet I have seen nothing ciritcising the lack of representation in Greta Gerwig’s supposed “masterpiece”.

Yes, we have Miguel, who seems to be of Hispanic descent, and his girlfriend Shelly, who seems to be mixed-race. But note the use of “seems to be”, because their characters aren’t even explored enough for us to find out their racial background. We don’t even know why Shelly is living with the McPherson’s and not with her own family and we don’t really know why they are struggling to find jobs despite their college educations. Now I’m not saying that this aspect of the movie particularly bothered me – if you’ve read any of my other posts or reviews you’ll know where I stand on representation – I’m just saying that if critics are going to be loudmouthed on an issue (particularly during awards season) they need to be consistent about it. We had our token gay character in her first boyfriend Danny, which provided us with another beautiful scene when he comes to visit Lady Bird post-break at the coffee shop where she works and emotionally begs her not to reveal his sexuality to anyone as he’s still not sure how to deal with it. But that’s pretty much the last we hear of him. Again, I don’t personally have a problem with this, but I feel like the typically over-sensitive Hollywood critics usually preaching representation are showering Gerwig in glittery praise when usually they would be burning directors at the stake for this. Where is the consistency?

The token coloured characters

Blame it on my OCD (the genuine mental health condition, not the kind they use for comedic effect in TV pop culture – I’m looking at you Big Bang Theory) but I have an overwhelming need for closure, and Lady Bird just seemed to leave so many things open-ended; questions that were so obviously left deliberately unanswered in an attempt to be mysterious and avant-garde. Suspect number one: Adoption. Miguel is obviously adopted. Or is he? Is he from a previous marriage? Lady Bird makes it very explicit he is a different race to her when she suggests he only got into Berkley because of affirmative action. Is Lady Bird adopted? This would explain her need to give herself a new name and the extreme difficulty she has connecting with her mother. The fact that the word “adoption” is never used, never mind explored, is downright weird.

Lady Bird and Miguel have a strange relationship. Is this because of the adoption? It is common for brothers and sisters to not get along, however there are moments in the movie when Miguel shows that he does in fact care for her – when Kyle comes to fetch her for prom and merely honks instead of coming to the door he remarks “Even you deserve better than this”. He also goes to the trouble of securing his old job at the grocery store for her. Yet, we never really see any sign of reciprocation of this type of affection coming from Lady Bird towards him. Is this because he’s adopted, and she isn’t? Is it because they’re both adopted? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we even had a clue?

Suspect number two: The film finished with me screaming at the TV: “WHICH COLLEGE DID SHE GET INTO?!” We were treated to a scene of her furiously ripping open envelopes of colleges that had rejected her. We know one of them was Columbia. And finally, one of them had placed her on the waiting list, and eventually accepted her. But which college was it? We will never know. And that infuriates me. I usually don’t mind a mysterious ending but this one just felt commercial, manipulative and like it was trying too hard. I wanted closure. I wanted to know if Lady Bird had truly achieved success. Yes, I know the goal was to go to the East Coast and she was in New York City, but if she was in some dead-end college no one has ever heard of and would probably wind up back home by the end of the second semester, then that wasn’t a success and it changes the movie. So, tell me which college she got into dammit!

Epic Covers

I am fully aware that I am being unnecessarily harsh on this movie. It is a very good movie. The acting is exceptional (Jessica Chastain was still better though). The writing is superb. As coming of age movies go, it’s up there. It’s not the movie I’m mad at, it’s the hypocrisy. If the Academy is changing the types of movies and performances it gives awards to, then it needs to consistently do so. Juno was released in 2007. A glorious coming of age tale, with an almost identical list of nominations. In the ten years since there have been several similar movies just as worthy of comparable praise but they were snubbed and did not receive the rave reviews and sparkling attention that is showering upon Lady Bird. Why? And why is Lady Bird immune to the criticism of representation, white-bias and one-dimensional storytelling that is raining down upon its competition?

Politics and awards season aside, it is a very enjoyable movie.

Rating: 3.5/5

Oscar Worthy Coming of Age Movies Between Juno and Ladybird

2007 Charlie Bartlett

2009 Whip It

2012 The Perks of Being a Wallflower

2012 The Way Way Back

2013 The Spectacular Now

2014 Wish I Was Here

2015 Ashby

2015 Paper Towns

2015 Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

2016 Carrie Pilby

Any others you’d like to add?

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Book Review: The Friend – by Dorothy Koomson

If I’m going to read 52 books this year I guess I’ll need to prove it, and I figure the best way to do that is to review them. Let the book reviews begin:

The Friend Review

 

Pages: 468

Box Ticked: A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet.

I first fell in love with Dorothy Koomson when I was working part-time in a book shop as an undergraduate student majoring in English Literature and Philosophy. I didn’t have much time to read for pleasure. Fiction was my favourite section to organise – straightforward A to Z, having as many covers facing out as possible, because people do judge a book by its cover. Not me though, I judge a book by its title. And so, when I found “Marshmallows for Breakfast” by Dorothy Koomson, I knew I was onto a winner. And the cover with soft, comforting pastel shades of pink, blue and yellow didn’t hurt. After months of staring at it, I finally used my 30% staff discount for the first time to treat myself to a copy.

Dorothy Koomson Everywhere

I won’t lie. I was disappointed. The story didn’t live up to my expectations. But then again, how could it? I had built it up for months. But I decided Dorothy Koomson deserved another chance. So, I went back to the beginning, back to her beginning, and her first novel, “The Cupid Effect”, which I had to order. When it arrived, the cover also had those soothing tones and a catchy hook, “Dare you follow your heart?” I remember reading the Prologue on my break in the back office. My heart nearly beat out my chest. It was a list of the protagonist’s “Good Intentions”. And numbers 6 and 7 were like she had seen into my soul:

Prologue

I had been obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff series Angel for all of my adolescent years. And let’s be honest, the rest of my life since. And that year in particular I was definitely guilty of staying up too late watching old re-runs of both shows (which had long since gone off air).

The similarities didn’t end there. The book’s protagonist was like my spirit animal. I related to her in every way possible – even in ways I wished I didn’t. And the writing was sensational. It really was like she could see into my soul. She wrote the way I wished I could. And so that was it. Dorothy Koomson became my new literary best friend. She went on to make me cry in “My Best Friend’s Girl” and ugly cry in “Good Night Beautiful”. I have turned so many people onto her books – both friends and customers – and have bought so many of her books as presents I really do deserve some sort of commission by now, hint hint.

Anyway, let’s get back on track, this is supposed to be a review of “The Friend”, not an ode to Dorothy Koomson…

“The Friend” follows Cece Solarin who has reluctantly moved her three children to Brighton to join her husband who has received a shiny new promotion. Determined to make the best of this fresh start, Cece is horrified to discover that she has unknowingly enrolled her children in a school where just three weeks earlier, one of the parents, a popular mother named Yvonne, was brutally assaulted and now lies in a coma. Weary of everyone, she is somewhat relieved when she quickly makes friends in a community that seems extremely cliquey.

Her new friends, Maxie, Anaya and Hazel, couldn’t be more different from each other, but as close knit as the group seems, each has their own set of closely guarded secrets, least of all, exactly where they were on the night Yvonne was assaulted. Each friend seems comfortable confiding in Cece, but is she just a replacement for Yvonne? Or is she in very real danger of being the next victim? When the police come to Cece to help them with their investigation, she is reluctant to spy on her new friends, but as with any mother, she will do anything to protect her family.

Although this book came out in July in South Africa, with the current exchange rate as it is, I had to wait until my turn to host book club in September to buy it, and December for my turn to get my hands on it. As with “Marshmallows for Breakfast”, I was worried the anticipation would taint the final result, but not so in this case. I feel like Dorothy Koomson’s writing has matured as she has (something it makes me heartsore to say, I feel is deeply lacking in the case of Marian Keyes, another author I do really love). Her female characters have real depth and go well beyond their looks, careers and love lives. As with most of her novels, I found myself relating to the main character, Cece, particularly in that I wished I could be more like her; specifically, more brave. She was just the right amount of flawed, without being whiny and annoying at any stage; she never played the victim and you never felt sorry for her, only empathy. And I think that is a tricky emotion to invoke in a reader.

As the secrets of the other characters unravelled, I stayed up well past my bedtime, turning the pages, trying to guess whodunnit; and she had me guessing until the very end. Some of my bookBig Little Lies club friends who only read the blurb had the audacity to compare it to “Big Little Lies”, what with all the attention and acclaim it received with the release of the mini-series last year, as though my precious Dorothy was some sort of plagiarist. But prep school and precocious parents aside, that is where the comparisons can end.

Ultimately, I give it a solid 4 out of 5. It is an easy read, although it does coverDorothy Koomson Profile Pic some very intense and relevant topics on sexual assault, exploitation and racism. In a world desperate for real, realistic female role models; Cece, Maxie, Anaya, Hazel and even Yvonne from time to time, give us everyday examples of what it is to be a woman in 2018. This is an important book. Read it.

Easter Egg: As someone who judges a book by its title, I was a little disappointed by “The Friend”, but there is a deeper meaning to it…