Lady Bird (2017) starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, & Lucas Hedges

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California. IMDB synopsis

This (must-see) film was written and directed by indie actress Greta Gerwig (who is in her early 30s) and the long-time girlfriend/collaborater of writer/director Noah Baumbach. In interviews, Gerwig has referred to her protagonist, Christine (Lady Bird) McPherson, as a much more rebellious teenager than herself. Like Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan- 24 y.o. yet able to create a VERY convincing 17 y.o.) Gerwig was raised in Sacramento and attended Catholic school. This film is tightly-edited, thoughtful, complicated, yet VERY easy to relate to on many levels. The mother-daughter relationship is what’s being stressed in trailers and reviews; it’s also about friendships, dating, identity, and learning to appreciate what you already have in life.

Lady Bird (“the name I gave myself”) says she comes from “the wrong side of the tracks,” but lives in a warm, colorful, modest house w/ two loving parents, psychiatric nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf- famous for her role as Jackie on Roseanne) and recently laid-off computer programmer, Larry (actor/playwright Tracy Letts- also seen in The Post). Her older brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues- an Australian of Malaysian heritage), and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) live at home also; they’re recent college grads working at a local grocery store. There is a thread if economic uncertainty and unemployment/underemployment in this film. Marion works double shifts at her hospital to make ends meet.

To enhance her college applications, Lady Bird decides to go try out for the school play, along w/ her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein- younger sister of actor Jonah Hill). Unlike the waif-like Lady Bird, Julie is a bigger girl who is somewhat insecure, yet VERY supportive/warm. Julie gets the lead in the play; Lady Bird gets a role, BUT is more excited about one of the boys who in the theater program, Danny (Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea). Danny is sweet and respectful; he and Lady Bird spend a LOT time together, meet each others’ families, and say “I love you” to each other. It’s a BIT of a shock (yet NOT improbable) when their relationship comes to an end.

Though Lady Bird is disappointed and hurt, she finds interest in another boy at school, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name), who plays in a band and enjoys reading. Unlike Danny, Kyle is mysterious and perhaps a too selfish/full of himself. Lady Bird grows distant from Julie (too bad) and becomes friends w/ a popular/pretty girl, Jenna (Odeya Rush), who dates one of Kyle’s friends. Lady Bird puts on a different image/attitude in front of her rich clique of friends.

Marion worries re: her daughter’s future; Lady Bird’s grades aren’t that great, though she dreams of going to a East Coast college (or anywhere to escape Sacramento). Also, her attitude is changing (NOT for the better), as she stands on the edge of adulthood. BOTH women are tough, strong-willed, yet love each other VERY much (though they can’t always express it well). Lady Bird’s soft-spoken dad is willing to listen to her concerns, BUT he’s also going through his own struggles, too.

 

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The Dinner (2016) starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, & Rebecca Hall

[1] Nobody can accuse The Dinner of being unambitious, but I would like to accuse it of being an ambitious mess. 

[2] What happens when your are face to face with a clear moral dilemma? Can you bury your integrity in lies? Surely, such a deception will haunt you if you have a conscience. Self interest makes it harder to do the right thing, and this test will be faced by everyone at some point in their life.

[3] The enablers… are not helpful. They help perpetuate the problem via denial and/or self-interest. Unfortunately, this is how many families deal with mental illness: by winging it and not bothering to look up symptoms of abnormal and/or destructive behavior, and/or to consult with experts when these behaviors emerge.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

A former high school history teacher, Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan- an Englishman I’d only seen in Philomena) and his wife/cancer survivor, Claire (Laura Linney- one of my faves), meet at an exclusive restaurant w/ his older brother/congressman, Stan (Richard Gere), and his much younger wife, Kate (Rebecca Hall). Paul (who sees the negative side of life) obviously doesn’t want to be there; he has a very strained relationship w/ Stan and thinks that this food is extravagant. The plan is to discuss over dinner how to handle a crime committed by their teenage sons, Mike and Rick. We see in flashbacks the teens harassing a homeless woman, throwing garbage at her, then setting an ATM building on fire (w/ her inside). This was filmed, uploaded online (by Stan’s adopted black son- Beau), and made the local news. The boys have not been identified yet; the parents are very anxious about how this will affect their future.

Stan’s tireless assistant, Nina (Adepero Oduyo from 12 Years a Slave) is in the sitting room, holding his calls. Stan is a very busy man, running for governor and trying to pass a mental heath bill (partly b/c his own family has been affected by this issue). Kate is the one who truly knows Stan’s kids, as she has time for them (his ex-wife Barbara, played by Chloe Sevigny, has run away to India). We learn that the brothers’ mother was abusive, esp. to Paul. Stan was favored and had to be “the man of the house” (since their father was “checked out” emotionally). Paul lost his job after he lost his cool (in front of his class), cursing and insulting them. He was placed on meds, though stopped taking them (wanting to “feel like my old self”). Claire noticed that he was hiding the pills, yet didn’t say anything. 

This film has an interesting premise and tries to tackle big issues: morality, loyalty, mental illness, family dysfunction, and different fears (losing a spouse to illness, losing a child to jail, etc.) It’s not effectively put together, unfortunately. The sound design is bad (at times), the camera moves around (for no reason), and the editing is choppy. The characters turn out to be unlikable, yet not in an entertaining way. (A few viewers mentioned that the play Carnage tackles some of the same issues, but in a more interesting way.) The ending of the film is very abrupt- it’s as if the producers ran out of money! 

The author of the book “The Dinner” (Herman Koch) walked away from the European premiere of this film in early 2017. The Dutchman did not wish to stay for the after-party to talk to the director (Owen Moverman), cast members, or audience. Koch thought the scriptwriter had transferred his cynical story into a moral tale. He esp. disliked the movie’s reference to themes like American violence and the stigma of mental illness. A Dutch film came out in 2013, then an Italian one in 2014; both were well received and nominated for many awards.

I think it needed to be trimmed down. I loved the performances, esp. Rebecca Hall; I think she’s great in everything. I wasn’t bored. I was exasperated on some occasions. 

-Comments from Mark Kermode’s review (see below)

 

MUST-SEE for ANY Shakespeare Fan: A Presentation by Author/Actor Ben Crystal

Breakdown of segments in this video:

0:00-5:00 – Introduction & Ben’s own challenges with studying, then performing, Shakespeare. 

5:00-10:00 – What exactly is iambic pentameter? (Ben shows us how it’s part of everyday life!) Discussion of sonnet form, poetry, and prose.

10:00-39:00 – Ben breaks down, in a fresh new way, 3 famous scenes from Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear (w/ the help of two actors from his theater company and his linguist father). Ben speaks in Shakespeare’re original pronunciation (OP)- it’s a mix of different accents from Elizabethan England (“a melting pot”). 

39:00- 58:00 – Ben talks about how Shakespeare “directs the actors” w/ his writing, his own eclectic accent, then reveals to us the original pronunciation (OP) from the Bard’s day- a mix of different accents from Elizabethan England (“a melting pot”). Ben looks at the (bawdy) humor in a scene from As You Like It and the almost-military cadence to one of the monologues in Richard III.

58:00 – 1:02:00 – Suggestions of how to teach Shakespeare in schools (incl. to young children).

1:03:00 – end – Q&A w/ the audience (as well as others watching ALL over the world).

A Few Thoughts on Overbearing Parents

In a February 2013 article, “The Daily Mail” (UK) summarized the findings of a University of Mary Washington study conducted in the United States, then published online in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Study participants were college students between 18 and 23 years of age who had overbearing parents as children. The researchers said parental involvement was important, but too much increased a child’s likelihood of suffering depression and decreased their satisfaction with life and ability to get along with other people.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely,” lead researcher Holly Schiffrin said in a media release.

“There is a lot of pressure involved with helicopter parenting –– it affects the children’s self esteem and confidence because they are not given the opportunity to develop themselves,” she said.

“Children learn that behaviour too, so they mirror it in their adult own relationships, which can be problematic.”

Hamilton said it’s understandably difficult for modern parents to protect their children from danger but also help them develop independence.

Here are a few thoughts I found (via online research): 

Strict parents steal your confidence, they don’t let you develop properly and find your inner self. They make it difficult for you to be an adult who knows what he or she wants you are so scared to have an opnion of your own. It affects your relationships with boyfriends and mates. As you are afraid to speak out for yourself… Emotionally you can’t develop into a strong well balanced person if your parents are shadowing your every more. It instills fear at times and there are enough things in life that are scary without having your parents stop you from becoming as wonderful as you can be by controlling your every move. The control mechanisim is done out of fear, and insecurity on their part. It is sad to think that they are so confused this way, but, unfortunately, it has life long effects, if they are not taught to be better parents.

-Australian, female, aged 45-50 (The Experience Project)

It makes them [children] rebel and then it also stagnates them from making the real decisions they need to make when they are free of their parents because they always doubt themselves. To this day, I am always looking for acceptance and always second guessing myself because my parents were always so on top of me. It’s like you don’t want them on top of you to begin with, but then when they aren’t anymore, you don’t even know what to do with yourself, you don’t even trust your own judgement, because they always told you you were wrong.

-American, female, 30s (The Experience Project)

Let me first explain how I define emasculated.  Many people define emasculated as an overly controlling guy, who suddenly has to work for a female manager, and now he feels “emasculated.” That’s just one definition, but it misses the bigger point.

Here’s how I understand it. There are a few ways a guy can be emasculated:
1. Overbearing father
2. Overbearing mother
3. Overbearing religion

When men have controlling fathers, the effects manifest themselves in a few ways. They become controlling, too. As soon as they get out on their own, they decide they will never be dominated again, and seek to dominate. They can also go the opposite way. They see how much pain a domineering alpha male wannabe causes at home, and they want nothing to do with it.

When men have controlling mothers, even those who do this out of love, it has the same effect. However, it also creates resentment. You will see unexplained hostility toward women. When a woman asks a guy for a simple favor, he gets upset. If she dares ask him to do something that is expected in traditional roles, like repairing something, he boils over. He alternately needs her approval, but he resents the fact that he’s a mama’s boy because everybody sees it. If they don’t see it, he thinks they do.

He also fails to inspire any confidence in girls he courts because they sense that he will not stand up for her. Women look for guys who will look out for them. If they sense that a guy is a weakling, they have little use for him. Constant criticism erodes self-confidence.

 -American, male, 20s (Ex-Mormon discussion forum)

From my own experience, the emotionally happiest and healthiest people I know (amongst academic high achievers) all have good relationships with their parents and were never poked and prodded into high academic achievement. They were able to get far academically due to their own intellect, motivation, and determination, of course with loving encouragement (not prodding) from their parents.

Always remember the effects of selection bias. The kids graduating from these top-ranked schools and getting good jobs are a highly select sample of young people who have extraordinary intellect and motivation, and much of that comes from genetics, environment, peers, or luck, and NOT parental intervention. If you are a parent, just because you see so many kids graduating from Harvard getting $100k starting salary jobs doesn’t mean that if you drop your own kid into Harvard, he will magically come out with a $100k starting salary job. Your kid needs to have that intellect and motivation; without them, he will wallow in depression because you expect so much of him, but he simply doesn’t have the ability to deliver what you desire.

Unlike the philosophy of many Asian parents, not everything can be taught to everyone. Some kids are simply not made to go down a top-ranked academic path. They may have strong skills in other areas, such as mechanical hand skills or people skills, and are thus better-suited for different professions. There should be no shame in your child being a car mechanic, if he simply can’t do well in school, no matter how much you force him to try. If fixing cars is what he’s good at, and he aspires to open his own small car body shop (which can be a stable and profitable business in the long run), it’s useless to try to push him into becoming a brain surgeon.

-Excerpted from a 2006 article by Philip Guo, PhD (professor of Computer Science)

All parents have dreams for their children but the overbearing ones really make it obvious that their love is conditional upon the fulfillment of their expectations. Which social groups tend to have above-average concentrations of overbearing parents? In North America, that would be immigrants. People immigrate for all sorts of reasons. The biggest delusion that immigrants have is the “for a better life” myth that they chant to whoever they’re pandering to, and this is otherwise known as the “American Dream.” The people who feed their children and others this lie don’t have a concrete reason for immigrating, such as an educational or occupational opportunity (in other words, their own life fulfillment), but rather some vague dream about rainbows paved with gold. These are hurt people, disenchanted with life in their homeland, and this hurt could go back several generations. Often, they do not know the exact reasons for their distress. They could have been from a fallen family, whose wealth or status was lost by tragic means, such as those stemming from political winds of change. However, these families’ values and high standards remain intact, and as a result their offspring are doomed for generations to carry out the plan to regain what was lost. Children of overbearing parents should try to find out more about their family background, by speaking with relatives, traveling to the ancestral homeland, in order to gain insight into what social or familial forces shaped their parents’ behaviour.

-Canadian, female, 30s