Lady Bird ****
Dir: Greta Gerwing
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Jordan Rodrigues, Lois Smith, Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush, Stephen Henderson, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts
Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) prefers being called “Lady Bird” as it’s her given name – as in she’s given it to herself. She also can’t wait to fly free – from boring Sacramento, from her all-girls Catholic high-school, from her middle-class trappings, and, perhaps, most of all from her hard-working and loving but constantly exasperated, judgmental mother (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird firmly believes that she will eventually turn into a butterfly once free of her restricting confines and yearns to go to an East Coast college. Her mother, however, wants to set her sights lower (and more local).
This tussle is set against a familiar high-school backdrop and its accompanying heartaches, adventures, toils and troubles – romances, maths tests, the shifting bonds of friendships and romances, social cliques, proms and plays and so on. But any problems with the movie’s originality are easily overcome with writer/director (and Sacramento native) Greta Gerwig’s minutely detailed observations and sympathetic characterisations (nobody is quite the villain that they may first appear to be nor are they paragons of virtue) and a script full of unexpected humour and lovely lines of dialogue. Gerwig pays attention and that just may be the same thing as love – something which Lady Bird’s high school principal Sister Sarah (Lois Smith) gently suggests to her. Gerwig’s surprise weapon is her leading lady. Saoirse Ronan is – at 23 – already amongst the very best, intuitive and understated and with an intelligence that pierces to the heart of her characters (her Oscar nominated performance in 2015’s Brooklyn, being a prime example). Ronan elevates Gerwig’s script to a higher plane.
Lady Bird has picked up 5 Oscar nominations this year: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf) and Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig). All are deserved.
Cut to chase: A delicately realised and affecting, affectionate coming-of-age drama.
The Post *** 1/2
Dir: Steven Spielberg
The Post, whether by chance or design, certainly feels like a movie of the moment even though it is set in 1971. It not only tackles the issue of the freedom of the press (against the might of an intrusive, angry executive branch) but also that of female empowerment. It gives us the tale of The Washington Post having to decide whether to expose three decades of government cover-ups related to the war in Vietnam and risk careers and livelihoods and even the existence of the venerated newspaper itself. At the same time it depicts the personal growth of the owner and publisher of the Post, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), as she has to find the inner strength to take some truly brave decisions and provide the leadership that her paper needs at a critical juncture, leadership which most of her male advisors believe she cannot provide and even she has her own doubts. Standing beside – and sometimes against – her is her editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is driven not only by the principles of his profession but by his friendly competition with his rivals, particularly The New York Times.
Spielberg has at his disposal a formidable cast consisting not only of Streep and Hanks but other quite familiar faces like Bob Odenkirk, Alison Brie, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys and Sarah Paulson and they are all very good. The director also does his usual thorough job in recreating the look and feel of the 70s in general and large metropolitan newspaper offices in particular. However, the movie also does not quite have the procedural intensity of movies like Spotlight and All The President’s Men. Still, very much worth a look. Nominated for this year’s Best Film and Best Actress (Streep) Oscars.
Cut to chase: A timely look at a critical moment in American journalism as well as a tale of personal growth.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection