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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Familiar by Danai Gurira (Wooly Mammoth Theatre)

Familiar is written by Tony-nominated playwright Danai Gurira (who was born in the US, but raised many years in Zimbabwe). She can be seen in the newest Marvel movie- Black Panther.  (Listen to a recent NPR interview w/ Gurira here: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/17/586172340/danai-gurira-on-her-black-panther-role-she-protects-what-we-would-have-been). Familiar is Wooly’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The play is directed by Theater J artistic director, Adam Immerwahr (one of Gurira’s long-time collaborators).

Donald (Kim Sullivan), a low-key lawyer and partner in his firm, and his high-strung scientist wife, Marvelous (Inga Ballard), are getting ready for the wedding of their older daughter, Tendi (Sharina Martin). Their younger daughter, Nyasha (Shannon Dorsey- I’ve seen her in All the Way and Octoroon), has recently returned from Zimbabwe, and is full of excitement and stories. Unlike religious/straight-laced lawyer Tendi, the much younger Nyasha is a free-spirited musician still finding herself. (Nyasha reminded me of Beneatha Younger, the idealistic/Afrocentric college girl from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.) 

Two sisters of Marvelous have come over for the wedding: Margaret (Twinkle Burke)- an adjunct professor who loves wine and Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce)- a traditional woman (who stayed behind in the old country). Tendi invited Anne to help w/ the roora (bride price) ceremony, despite the fact that she and her mother don’t get along. Marvelous is shocked, as she does NOT approve of roora. However, Tendi and her white fiance/nonprofit worker, Chris (Drew Kopas), want to honor the elders in this way. It turns out that Chris needs a go-between for the ceremony, so he brings in his younger brother/former soldier, Brad (Andy Truschinski). Misunderstandings, sibling rivalries, hurt feelings, secrets, and a LOT of hilarity ensues! 

I was lucky enough to get tickets (online) to see this play on a pay-what-you-can performance. I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in the theater before! It’s NOT just about jokes, there are some VERY touching moments (some of which grow out of a long-hidden family secret). I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area; it’s playing until SUN, MAR 11th (https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/familiar).

The Post (2017) starring Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep

WARNING: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

When American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, realizes to his disgust the depths of the US government’s deceptions about the futility of the Vietnam War, he takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become the Pentagon Papers. Later, Washington Post owner, Kay Graham, is still adjusting to taking over her late husband’s business when editor Ben Bradlee discovers the New York Times has scooped them with an explosive expose on those papers. Determined to compete, Post reporters find Ellsberg himself and a complete copy of those papers. However, the Post’s plans to publish their findings are put in jeopardy with a Federal restraining order that could get them all indicted for Contempt. Now, Kay Graham must decide whether to back down for the safety of her paper or publish and fight for the Freedom of the Press. In doing so, Graham and her staff join a fight that would have America’s democratic ideals in the balance. -IMDB summary

This tightly edited/well-acted historical drama (directed by Spielberg) is a MUST-SEE for our (politically troubled) times! Spielberg wanted to have his film released as quickly as possible given the parallels between its theme and the burgeoning political “fake news” climate in the U.S. According to Streep, the physical shoot started in May 2017 and finished at the end of July and Spielberg had it cut two weeks later. The film went from script to final cut in a modest 9 mos.

Tom Hanks (WaPo editor Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (newspaper owner Katharine Graham) are the main draws here, BUT there are also chances for (younger/less famous) actors to shine. You will some fine moments featuring Matthew Rhys (Daniel Ellsberg), Alison Brie (star of GLOW), Jessie Plemons (most recently on Black Mirror), and Sarah Paulson (who plays the supportive wife of Bradlee). As I heard on NPR, this movie doesn’t get into the fact that Bradlee actually had 3 marriages which were far from ideal.  

At times, Graham is unsure of what steps to take w/ regards to the future of her paper (which was losing money). She is a woman in a man’s world, who didn’t have to work until she suddenly became a widow in middle-age. Her trusted ally is her long-time attorney, Fritz Beebe (actor/writer Tracy Letts); he is a male ally (though they wouldn’t have used this term in the late ’60s). Beebe helps Graham stands up to Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), who thinks she’s NOT the right person to head the paper.

Can journos be friends w/ politicians? Hmmm, it’s NOT such a good idea, as BOTH Bradlee and Graham come to realize. Bradlee knows that he was TOO close to the Kennedys (personally), so got the kinds of access that other newsmen wouldn’t have. Graham’s long-time friendship w/ former Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is tested, BUT she doesn’t let him intimidate her into being silent. Ben Bagdikian (Bod Odenkirk) provides some of the humor in the movie; he is a dogged senior reporter who tracks down Ellsberg.