• [The Daily] Telluride + Toronto: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird

    By David Hudson

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    “Greta Gerwig didn’t get much sleep leading up to the Friday premiere of her directorial debut, the coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird, at the Telluride Film Festival,” writes Josh Rottenberg, introducing his interview with the filmmaker for the Los Angeles Times. “For the actress turned writer-director, previously best known for her work in such films as Frances Ha and 20th Century Women, the thought of screening Lady Bird in front of an audience of die-hard cinephiles and awards-season tastemakers—in the same opening-night slot that launched Moonlight last year, no less—was both thrilling and utterly frightening. . . . As it turned out, Gerwig had nothing to worry about. In its first outing, warmly introduced by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Lady Bird soared.”

    Gerwig has “thoroughly reinvigorated the senior-year-in-high-school coming-of-age comedy,” writes A. O. Scott in a dispatch from Telluride to the New York Times. “To some degree autobiographical—the heroine, like her creator, lives in Sacramento—the movie is sharp, shrewd, funny and impeccably cast. Saoirse Ronan is Christine McPherson, who prefers to be called Lady Bird and who grapples with some of the usual frustrations of adolescence: sex, school, friendship, parents (Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf, both superb). The story, set in the 2002-03 school year, unfolds episodically, through homecoming, college applications and senior prom, and a few John Hughesy notes are struck, but the overwhelming impression is of an original creative voice in the process of self-discovery: Christine’s, and also Ms. Gerwig’s.”

    “What Gerwig does best is acutely capture the heady blur of the last year of high school, when old things gradually matter less and less as new opportunity and excitement tantalizingly tease on the horizon,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. “Hopefully the experience of making the film provided the personal catharsis and clarity it’s so ardently in search of. For the outside audience, the film at least does all this rummaging through personal history with a sterling cast—Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and an utterly winning Beanie Feldstein are among the standouts—all flourishing in the easygoing glow of Gerwig’s warm, confident filmmaking.”

    “Movie fans that aren’t at Telluride are at a fever pitch over the reports of incredible performances from Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water),” notes Gregory Ellwood at the Playlist. “You better add Metcalf to the list of must-sees this fall. She gives a heartfelt turn that is, frankly, the soul of the film.”

    “Metcalf has never had a big-screen role as rich as this,” adds Variety’s Peter Debruge, “and she makes the most of it, playing a character who doesn’t hold back in criticizing her daughter’s faults (from academics to future job prospects), but works double shifts in the psych ward to provide for her future. On the surface, she’s tough on Lady Bird, but Metcalf manages to communicate between each line how it all comes from a place of caring. The big showdown between them involves Lady Bird’s choice of college, and what will become of the family if she goes off to the east coast. Gerwig may have flown the nest, but Lady Bird is proof that she hasn’t forgotten where she came from.”

    Lady Bird consolidates the style and sensibility of a generation caught between the last gasp of the 20th century and post-9/11 disillusionment like nothing else before,” finds IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “It looks back on that moment less to relish memories of a bygone era than to commune with its impact on young adults today. For Gerwig, it’s indisputable proof of a shrewd storyteller at the top of her form. The movie may capture a woman in transition, but there’s no question that its director has come of age.”

    Updates, 9/6: “The film opens with a cheeky quote from Joan Didion about Sacramento,” notes Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope, “but the homage might be reciprocated when she writes, in White Album, ‘A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that (s)he remakes it . . .’ Gerwig clearly does not love her native habitat so radically, but does wrench it from itself and render it, if not in the utter banality of strip-mall culture, then in the verbal wit of adolescence refracted through a 2000s zeitgeist.”

    “The film flies right along, passing so quickly from scene to scene that it occasionally risks becoming akin to sketch comedy,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “Sometimes you can almost sense Gerwig sorting through a pile of notes looking for a good gag or line that will get her onto whatever comes next, then diving in again for a snappy follow-up. But the sense of genuineness and authenticity trumps any lasting feel of glibness, so that the dozens of short scenes gradually accumulate to provide a satisfyingly full sense of Lady Bird’s heart and mind. Even when the film is glib, it is mostly also true.”

    Greta Gerwig on her film at Women and Hollywood: “It is about grace, wholly unearned and mysterious. It is about how home becomes most vivid when you are leaving. It is about Sacramento, California. It is about mothers and daughters and dances and religion and musicals and memory and grocery stores and parking lots and sex and messing up and realizing that whatever childhood was, now it’s over.”

    Updates, 9/10:Lady Bird isn’t out to reinvent the coming-of-age genre,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times, “though what it lacks in originality it makes up for in sheer velocity. The movie runs ninety-four minutes and moves like the wind. Gerwig paces every comic episode so briskly, and with such a joyous sense of forward propulsion, that we feel effortlessly caught up in what we’re watching: not a series of carefully plotted mishaps and epiphanies, but rather the swiftly pulsing beats of time—and life itself—passing our heroine by.”

    The A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd argues that “to really understand just how much Frances Ha is hers as much as it is [Noah Baumbach’s], you have to see Gerwig’s wonderful, uproarious new coming-of-age film, Lady Bird. The warm affection for foibles, the lightning-quick volleys of verbiage, the screwball forward plunge of the montage: So much of what made Frances Ha special is right here, too. And yet Lady Bird is its own movie, as generous as it is perceptive about the strange business of growing up and into yourself.”

    Lady Bird is a film bursting with warmth, wit and melancholy that manages to seem fresh and unexpected despite the overly stacked nature of the subgenre,” writes Benjamin Lee for the Guardian. “Gerwig displays no narcissism as someone sharing a version of her past or an aching desire to be hip as a young film-maker and instead relies on genuine, deeply felt emotion to sell her story. It’s an impeccably crafted film.”

    Lady Bird is one of the year’s great joys,” agrees Christopher Schobert at the Film Stage.

    Update, 9/15: “Ms. Gerwig turns out to be a natural filmmaking,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “Lady Bird is flat-out wonderful, as well as one of the best coming-of-age films since Amy Heckerling’s 1982 classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. . . . Generous, lived-in and pleasurably real, it is a portrait of the artist-in-the-making from an artist who has already arrived.”

    Updates, 9/16: “Laughs come fast and are generously distributed among the cast,” writes Sophie Monks Kaufman for Little White Lies. “Abrupt editing creates an enjoyable momentum. Ronan spins the film around her mood which can switch in ten different directions in the space of a scene. She ping-pongs between the relationships that nurture her and pursuing upward mobility with the rich kids. The most memorable moments are with the nurturers. Tracey Letts is heartbreaking as Lady Bird’s dad, an unemployed computer programmer trying not to advertise his depression.”

    “Gerwig's observations have laser-point precision in their depiction of people who love each other deeply but drive each other up the wall,” writes Christopher Machell at CineVue. “And Metcalf's tearful, frantic drive round an airport car park is a heart breakingly familiar rendering of the loving grief that parents and children cause each other. Bad high school films are a dime a dozen, but when done right, teen cinema can feel epochal. Lady Bird is one such example.”

    Update, 9/17: “Every performance is spot-on, every detail about being young and stupid in early-aughts Northern California feels right,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear, “and even the use of Dave Matthews Band’s ‘Crash’ works like gangbusters. A triumph, this.”

    Update, 9/18: “Gerwig is working in the same self-deprecating but entirely empathetic style as Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, and Whit Stillman (whose Damsels in Distress features Gerwig in an adorkable role),” writes Tina Hassannia at RogerEbert.com. “Gerwig’s directorial and editing speed helps flesh out multiple mini-narratives at once—like the best friend’s crush on their math teacher and a slightly socially awkward father/son subplot in which the younger man gets a job over his much more experienced father—that might normally be more fleshed out fully in a TV series. It’s like Gerwig knows she doesn’t have a lot of time to work with in a film narrative, so she wisely amps up the pace of the narrative and the barrel of raillery to ensure we can keep up and actually enjoy her cinematic joie de vivre.

    Update, 9/24: “Ronan finally takes a part that isn’t vaguely otherworldly,” writes Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold, “and shines; It-Kid Timothée Chalamet plays a too-cool arty crush to perfection. Lady Bird won’t set the world on fire, but it does leave it a warmer place.”

    Telluride and Toronto 2017 indexes. For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

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