• [The Daily] NYFF 2017: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird

    By David Hudson


    Lady Bird screens at the New York Film Festival this evening and tomorrow night, and we begin with Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay: “Greta Gerwig makes her directorial debut with this controlled, coolly compassionate and autobiographical-feeling post-9/11 teenage tale. Saoirse Ronan plays the titular heroine, a character who’d be a manic pixie dream girl in someone else’s movie but in Gerwig’s is simply a young woman full of uncertain possibility navigating sexuality, family economic distress and complicated parents in her high school senior year.”

    The New Yorker’s Richard Brody declares Gerwig to be “the most important new actor of the era” before turning to the film at hand: “It’s a classic coming-of-age story about friendship, sex, self-respect, money, and, especially, family—it’s a passionate and compassionate apple-and-tree story about Lady Bird’s conflict-riddled relationship with her tough-minded mother (Laurie Metcalf) and her complicity with her father (Tracy Letts), the parental good cop. Gerwig’s script has the exquisite, insightful, endlessly quotable lilt that set Mistress America (which she wrote and Noah Baumbach directed) aloft. Lady Bird isn’t consistently directed with a comparable flair, but that flair is there.”

    At Slant, Christopher Gray argues that Lady Bird’s “broader shift in perspective is its most impressive, as its sympathies gradually tilt from Lady Bird, a teen desperate to transcend her upbringing, to Marion, a mother who sacrifices her time and her body for her family without reward. Ronan, who seems to grow into her lanky frame over the course of the film, nails the sense that the life of a teenager is a tendentious war between one’s ego and their increasing sense of the world around them, while Metcalf masters Marion’s inability to erase her frustration at her inability to be selfish or impulsive. Both performances are remarkable, brittle and diffident in wholly original ways that distinguish Gerwig’s film from The Edge of Seventeen, Pretty in Pink, and other canonical coming-of-age works that attempt to honestly reckon with issues of privilege.”

    “I’ve already seen the inclination of some, even when they like the film, to dismiss her writing because it is ‘autobiography,’” notes Tracy Letts in a brief piece for Variety. “First of all, it’s simply not autobiography. Lady Bird’s story is very different from Greta’s in many particulars. And second, why would anyone believe writing a script with autobiographical elements is easier than spinning a fiction from whole cloth? (Because Greta’s a woman? Therefore there must be some other explanation why the writing is good?) Greta created a world on the page. There is nothing easy about that. Writers, take note of Greta Gerwig.”

    For The Frame, John Horn talks with Gerwig about working with Mike Mills, Spike Jonze, and Whit Stillman as well as about creating a vibe on her own set, why the story takes place in the early 2000s, and about what she does not have in common with Lady Bird.

    Earlier: Reviews from Telluride and Toronto.

    Update, 10/11: Jesse Hassenger for Brooklyn Magazine: “As a solo writer, Gerwig retains her deft way with meta-nostalgic one-liners (‘Just once I’d like the song “New York Groove” to be playing and have it apply to my life,’ says Lady Bird, who has never been to New York), and as a director she has a knack for goosing laughs with cuts. Yet despite some ace jokes (there’s a bonkers scene with a gym teacher taking over drama club), zingy dialogue, and a few stagy entrances and exits—or really, alongside them—this is a deeply felt film.”

    Update, 10/14: “There’s an eccentric individualism to Gerwig’s nimble form and flow of dialogue,” writes Caroline Madden for Reverse Shot. “Gerwig also boldly rejects the idea that stories about teenage girls have to focus on romance. Instead, Lady Bird’s arc centers on the quest for a sense of self, which speaks to the importance of having female directors tackle stories from their own points of view.”

    Update, 10/22: “Editor Nick Houy accentuates Gerwig’s structure, with cuts that cause scenes to begin in medias res or just as conversations are ending, giving the film both an organic rhythm and a restless momentum that feels true to Lady Bird’s longing for whatever comes next,” writes Alex Engquist at In Review Online. “That Gerwig manages to evoke so much truth—about mothers and daughters, the Stockholm Syndrome involved in feeling trapped in the place one grew up in, the self-consciousness inherent in an adolescent’s search for identity—within the familiar confines of Lady Bird’s funny, sweet coming-of-age story is something of a miracle.”

    Update, 10/26: In the Village Voice, Lara Zarum finds Lady Bird to be “sentimental without being saccharine, emotional without being contrived, able to conjure tears without yanking at our heartstrings while the music swells. Its matter-of-factness is what makes the film ultimately so wrenching.”

    Update, 10/27: In the Nation, Stuart Klawans finds that Gerwig and Ronan make “their heroine as finely tuned as an antenna, always quivering with signals about the new selves she might momentarily try on.”

    Update, 10/28: At 4Columns, Melissa Anderson notes that Gerwig “opens the film with a tart epigraph by Joan Didion, the California capital’s most famous daughter: ‘Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.’ The spirit of Didion, who throughout her career has been one of the Golden State’s most ambivalent ambassadors, imbues Lady Bird, a film invested in the piquant details that establish place, era, and mood—the specifics that have always distinguished Didion’s writing, especially her nonfiction. Gerwig’s movie, despite its lighter tone and much smaller scope, could alternately be titled Where I Was From, the name of Didion’s 2003 essay collection about reckoning with the enduring myths of the state that shaped her.”

    Updates, 11/3: “The idea that attention is a form of love (and vice versa) is a beautiful insight, and in many ways it’s the key to Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s beautiful, insightful new film,” writes A. O. Scott in the New York Times. “And if you pay the right kind of attention to Lady Bird—absorbing its riffs and digressions as well as its melodies, its choral passages along with its solos and duets—you will almost certainly love it. It’s hard not to.”

    “Gerwig has a gift for skipping along the surface of her teenage alter ego’s life and then going deep—quickly, without fuss—before skipping forward again, evoking the tempo of a life lived whimsically but over an emotional abyss,” writes New York’s David Edelstein. “The best comic writers maintain a sense of danger, of what might have been, but there’s too much generosity in Gerwig’s writing to let her characters fall too hard.”

    “There are tons of movies about coming of age in the suburbs, but few are as astute as Lady Bird when it comes to class,” notes Time’s Stephanie Zacharek.

    “Gerwig’s restrained direction emerges from the very ideas in the film,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “The aesthetic of Lady Bird, its emotional and dramatic legibility, is a realism of morality, an utterly uncynical but clear-eyed sense of the responsibilities that come with the kind of money that it takes to make such a film, the kind of stylistic and tonal expectations that a movie of this sort creates and should fulfill in order for it to take its place in the field—and for Gerwig to take her apt place there along with it.”

    “Metcalf and Ronan create a completely believable mother-daughter dynamic, where bickering over clothes-shopping morphs into monstrously personal arguments at the drop of a hat,” writes Sheila O’Malley in Film Comment.

    At the A.V. Club, A. A. Dowd argues that “if Gerwig isn’t reinventing the coming-of-age movie, she’s certainly investing it with uncommon wit and quotability; her dialogue hits that rare, special sweet spot between authenticity and zing—an ideal middle ground, in other words, between the way people actually talk and the gut-busting way we only want them to.”

    Writing for NPR, Scott Tobias finds that “Gerwig isn't a particularly showy director—though she makes the big moments count—but her one devastatingly effective touch is to sketch the film through deft little mini-montages that capture the essence of a location or a situation without dwelling for too long. It's like she has a notebook full of vivid anecdotes to share and a larger picture emerges from them, like pointillist filmmaking.”

    For David Sims at the Atlantic, Lady Bird is “funny, lively, and then devastating when it needs to be, made with the kind of confidence even its heroine could only dream of.”

    “Gerwig never hits a false note, oscillating between wisdom and poignancy without falling into the trap of the nostalgia from a period so clearly influencing this sweetly tuned homage to misguided angst, ignorant yearnings, and the desire to break out on one’s own,” writes Eric Lavallée at Ioncinema.

    At RogerEbert.com, Susan Wloszczyna agrees that that this is “one of the better solo directing debuts by an actor in recent memory.”

    New interviews with Gerwig: Noreen Malone (Vulture), Anne Thompson (IndieWire), and Susan Wloszczyna (WhereToWatch). And Jordan Raup (Film Stage) and Stephen Saito talk with cinematographer Sam Levy.

    Updates, 11/6: For K. Austin Collins at the Ringer, “the beauty of Lady Bird isn’t in how well Gerwig has made a movie about herself: It’s in how thoroughly and adventurously she’s imagined the inner life, anxieties, joys, insecurities, and everyday behaviors of other people.”

    “You said something to me in a previous conversation that I thought was very smart—and it’s something I’ve done in my work as well,” Francis Ford Coppola tells Greta Gerwig in a cross-country phone call recorded for Interview. “You said you deliberately—both as an actor and later in your writing and directing—put yourself in a position where accidents are going to happen. Because when you’re dealing with shaky ground, that’s a moment of truth, and whatever happens is probably going to be really honest.” Gerwig: “I think being attracted to mistakes is one of the things that film can capture in a way that theater can’t. Film can capture a moment of spontaneous life that will never be captured again. I like a lot of structure and a lot of lines, but then within that I make room for things to happen that you couldn’t have predicted.”

    Updates, 11/11: “So many moments throughout the film exude a sense of genuine reality, so deft is the execution by the writer/director and her actors,” writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle. “And amid the customary sequences for this type of narrative, Gerwig sprinkles scenes of great ingenuity and unexpected humor. Like her namesake, Lady Bird, the film, is not one to be trifled with. Her name—and Gerwig’s—will ring out as one of the bright spots of 2017.”

    “It's an exquisitely observed portrait of a mother and daughter so intractably at war that they can't see how close they are until it's too late,” writes Sean Nelson in the Stranger. Also, Metcalf is “almost certainly the greatest living actress.” Jenna Marotta talks with her for IndieWire.

    “As soon as it was over, I wanted to watch it again,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR. “There are so many sweet, throwaway asides in which even the bit players are granted dreams and aspirations of their own. My favorite is the drama teacher, played by Stephen Henderson of Fences, who in a quick couple of minutes gives us a glimpse of this guy’s entire life.”

    Update, 11/14: The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey talks with Gerwig, who “shares her years-long writing process, how she casts actors, and a defense of Dave Matthews Band” (30’28”).

    Update, 11/16: For the Playlist, Gregory Ellwood talks with Chalamet about Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, “the future of his career and more.”

    Update, 11/17: “In addition to the performances and the writing, Lady Bird impresses with its meticulous production design and economical editing,” writes Christopher Llewellyn Reed at Hammer to Nail. “Both moving and funny in equal measure, the movie announces a major new talent behind the camera.”

    Updates, 11/23: “In order to make sure her film was as accurate as possible, Gerwig wanted to license just the right music, and so, as she revealed on Late Night With Seth Meyers, she wrote letters to the artists in question,” writes Jackson McHenry at Vulture. “For the ease of reading, we’ve screencapped those letters.” Pretty endearing.

    McHenry also interviews Ronan, as does Mike Ryan for Uproxx.

    Updates, 11/29:Lady Bird has become the best reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% score after 165 reviews,” reports Zack Sharf at IndieWire. “The previous record holder was Toy Story 3, which has a 100% score from 163 reviews. Lady Bird’s critical success has been matched at the box office, where the A24-released film has already earned over $10 million without even playing in 800 theaters yet.”

    “The widespread approval the film is getting is predominantly passionate, not shrugging,” notes Guy Lodge in the Guardian, “indicative of a film that is resonating personally with a range of critics and viewers far broader than the white lower-middle-class Californian realm that it depicts with such acute but affectionate specificity.”

    Glenn Kenny finds Lady Bird and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water to be “relentlessly nice movies. They are sentimental. In her essay ‘The Miseducation of Lady Bird’ in The Baffler, Lauren Oyler circles around this point a bit. After expressing befuddlement over the fact that she has encountered ‘old white men,’ one ‘middle aged man,’ and three young women ‘sporting leather backpacks and elaborate Nikes,’ who were more moved by the film than she was, Oyner homes in on the finale of the movie, during which its lead character Christine goes to church, then calls her mother. While both actions as depicted are, I think, given sufficient dramatic buttressing for them to make both narrative and (for some) emotional sense, Oyner is not wrong to call the speech ‘unapologetically corny’ and ‘exactly what a mother would want to happen.’ . . . One thing it never does—and I understand that on a not insignificant level it is because it’s not this kind of movie’s function to do so anyway, maybe—is question why it is salutary to be a movie that makes you want to call your mother after you get out of the theater.”

    “Undoubtedly, much of Gerwig’s artistry derives from her Barnard beginnings in the ‘Mumblecore’ film scene of the late 2000s, in which she was frequently cast in low-budget New York indie films by the likes of Joe Swanberg, Ry Russo Young, the Duplass brothers and Ti West,” writes Alejandro Veciana in the Notebook. “Gerwig, not being a classically trained actress, renders performances that are minimal and precise, playing similar characters who often balance a charming klutziness with sharp and quick wit. Her writing, much like her acting, is playful and clever, always admiring of urban neurotic intellectualism.”

    “Gerwig’s film isn’t an overt political commentary,” writes Meghan Gilligan for Another Gaze. “She weaves class tensions into the narrative to render how they quietly but firmly shape our lives. Class is a topic often tiptoed around in American conversations and films. Perhaps Gerwig was influenced by Mike Leigh, her favorite filmmaker.”

    “When you were writing were you always thinking of Laurie and Terry’s characters as much as you were of Saoirse’s and all the teenagers?” Gregory Ellwood asks Gerwig at the Playlist. And she replies, “Yeah, definitely. But not just Laurie and Tracy’s character, but also Steven McKinley Henderson’s or Lois Smith‘s character. The feeling that the adults are not just the ‘adults’ but everyone is in the middle of their own opera.”

    Variety’s Kristopher Tapley interviews Gerwig and Ronan (42’28”).

    Updates, 12/9: “Gerwig isn’t really a new voice at all,” argues J. R. Jones in the Chicago Reader, noting that “in the past decade she’s racked up ten screenwriting credits . . . When I saw Lady Bird, her first solo flight, it struck me as something completely fresh, though I knew I’d already seen several movies she’d cowritten. Intrigued, I began revisiting some of these older features to see if I could extract the special sensibility of Lady Bird from the stories Gerwig had written with her mentors. Though autobiographical elements pop up in many of her scripts, the collaborations lack the sort of generosity and understanding she brings to her solo debut. One can isolate her voice, but often there seems to be someone else talking over her.”

    And you can listen to Greta Gerwig talking to Slate’s Aisha Harris (55’01”) and Marc Maron (80’55”).

    Update, 12/24: For Vague Visages, Devika Girish talks with cinematographer Sam Levy “about transitioning from experimental to indie cinema, creating an ‘analog-video’ aesthetic and bringing Gerwig’s Sacramento to understated yet resplendent life.”

    Update, 12/27: “In Lady Bird, Gerwig somehow found a new angle on the mother-daughter movie that doesn’t shy away from each character’s flaws but never makes either of them remotely monstrous,” writes the Atlantic’s David Sims. “Both Lady Bird and Marion have infinite capacity to wound each other, yes, but that’s because of how deeply connected, and at times frighteningly similar, they are. There’s no better example of that than their quiet confrontation in a dressing room near the end of the film, as Lady Bird tries to pick a prom dress.”

    Update, 1/2: At Hammer to Nail, Christopher Llewellyn Reed’s posted the interview with Gerwig that he’s conducted along with Mae Abdulbaki of Movies with Mae, Hannah Buchdahl of Chickflix, and Leslie Combemale of Cinema Siren.

    Update, 1/5: On the new Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast at IndieWire, Chris O’Falt interviews Gerwig (30’56”).

    NYFF 2017 Index. For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

1 comment

  • By Patrick
    October 09, 2017
    08:09 AM

    Hard to go wrong with Saoirse Ronan.