Monday, October 9, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: Lady Bird

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

Lady Bird
Directed by Greta Gerwig
NYFF Screenings

Greta Gerwig is an actress who has starred in a number of movies over the past decade or so, earning a reputation as a darling of independent film. She is featured heavily in mumblecore films and has on several movies served as a co-writer, often partnering with boyfriend Noah Baumbach on films in which she starred and he directed. Recently, she has made a move towards more mainstream independent cinema with more serious roles in “20th Century Women” and “Jackie,” and now she’s back at the New York Film Festival with a movie that’s all her own as she steps fully behind the camera to make her directorial debut.

“Lady Bird” does not star Gerwig, but instead Saoirse Ronan, who plays Christine, a teenager living in Sacramento who prefers to be called Lady Bird. She yearns to break free from the often stifling grip of her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), and conspires with her out-of-work father Larry (Tracy Letts) to apply for financial aid from schools on the East Coast. Her Catholic high school experience is also severely affected by a desire for independence, self-expression, and sexual fulfillment that prove to be much more difficult to attain than she expects.

At a press conference for the film, Gerwig, who says that she never imagine herself in the film, based some aspects of the story on her own life growing up in Sacramento, and describes the movie as a love letter to the city delivered by someone who thinks she hates it. Gerwig addresses her process, explaining that she writes to figure out what a story is and the characters end up telling her what’s important to them. This film is particularly rooted in class, as Lady Bird constantly looks at others and thinks how good they have it, a comment on the statistic Gerwig cites that 95% of Americans self-identify as members of the middle class. This sharp and funny script has plenty to say about society and the way people interact, with age, religion, and environment all factored in.

Gerwig says that, after just two pages, she knew that Ronan was Lady Bird when they met and she began reading the script out loud at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Ronan, already a two-time Oscar nominee at age 23, is formidable and fantastic as Lady Bird, making her instantly memorable and adjusting perfectly to Gerwig’s style, speaking lines that sound like they could be coming straight out of Gerwig’s mouth. The rest of the cast, led by a terrific Metcalf, is superb, with standout performances from Beanie Feldstein and Lucas Hedges as Lady Bird’s best friend and first boyfriend, respectively. There have been many high school movies made about teenagers reckoning with the world around them, and this one easily shoots to somewhere near the top, higher up or way above – depending on your perspective - the “middle class” of high school cinema.


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