Category Archives: Recent Reviews

The Party (2018): High-class Soap Opera

In honor of her newfound appointment as the Minister of Health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas; Only God Forgives), celebrates by hosting a party. She invites her closest friends including Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, and Cillian Murphy, along with her husband played by Timothy Spall. What starts off as an innocent night of dinner and drinks erupts into chaos as we learn more about the secrets beneath their posh appearance and the party becomes a night to remember.

The black and white cinematography is adequate, but nothing more. Too often movies without color are automatically praised for their visuals when in reality they are merely passable. Small-scale independent movies like The Party tend to be shot in black and white for practical reasons rather than artistic ones. The choice to remove color hides the flaws of cheap lighting and enables quicker setups which was likely a major factor in director Sally Potter’s decision. The look of the film doesn’t compare to great black and white cinematography seen in movies like The Third Man, but it may not need to. The aesthetic hides the film’s budget limitations and adds to its deliberately cultured appearance that will no doubt ingratiate it to its intended audience.

Ganz’s free spirit is a great contrast to the rest of the cast.

The dialogue and setup initially feel pretentious. The characters are professors, politicians, and other forms of self-professed intellectuals and the dialogue never lets you forget it. Potter’s script often feels overwritten with needlessly verbose language. The word choice and the pompous way lines are delivered can be highfalutin and grating when the characters are first introduced. Clarkson’s constant eyerolling and dismissive tone are particularly irritating as she judges others under her breath. This snobbish behavior creates a distancing effect that prevents the film from building traction early on. Eventually, the characters become relatable as the plot twists are introduced, but the pompous air makes the first half of this short 77-minute movie feel much longer than desired.

Potter’s film is essentially a chamber play. The story is confined to a few rooms in one setting and the action is dialogue-based which may have been better suited to the stage. The theatrics of the performances would have felt at home and the small scale would be more appropriate. Unlike last year’s Beatriz at Dinner, which had a similar setup, it doesn’t take advantage of its medium. On the big screen, the film struggles through its first half until the melodrama appears. As juicy details are revealed and the characters are forced out of their ivory towers, the film becomes immensely more interesting. Seeing the supposedly refined exteriors shatter when faced with decidedly low-class problems is a welcome, almost cathartic change. Each new piece of information increases the hysteria – and the humor – while Ganz’s new age healer interjects with his own unwanted hippy philosophies to the chagrin of the other partygoers trying to cope with their immediate issues. Potter shows a knack for creating social situations that quickly spiral out of control, it’s just a shame that it takes her so long to get there.

3/5 stars.

Early Man (2018): Timeless Humor

Directing his first film in over a decade, Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit) and the wonderful team at Aardman Animations (Chicken Run) have created another hilarious stop-motion romp. Set in the Stone Age, the story follows Dug (Eddie Redmayne; The Theory of Everything) and his fellow cavemen who are forced out of their valley by a Bronze Age nobleman named Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston; Thor). Desperate to get his homeland back, Dug bets Nooth that his tribe can beat Nooth’s all-star soccer team. If the cavemen win, they can return to their valley, but if they lose they will be forced to spend their lives working in Nooth’s bronze mines.

A cast of prominent British actors has the time of their lives doing the voicework. Redmayne as Dug is an eternal optimist whose springy voice implies he always has another idea up his sleeves if things don’t work out. His resilience is as charming as his naivete, but the real standout has to be Hiddleston. Lord Nooth gives him the chance to be the villain Loki (his character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) never could be. He is deliciously evil, savoring every injustice he can create and every piece of bronze he can swindle. Yet, his ludicrous scheming is kept light by his blatant incompetence and his fear of how the Queen will react to his actions. He is the epitome of the likable, but bumbling villain, perfect for an audience to laugh at, but not with. Topping off the performances is a variety of vaguely European accents. Ricocheting between western European countries, the cast’s adopted speech only heightens the farcical plot and adds to the film’s absurd tone.

Lord Nooth is probably Hiddleston’s finest role yet.

Early Man is filled to the brim with inventive humor. Unlike most animated films, Park doesn’t rely on desperate fart jokes to get a laugh out of his audience. He uses the Stone Age setting to create ridiculous situations with the peak being a gargantuan, man-eating mallard duck and then mines the culture clash of the cavemen entering the Bronze age. There are setups with characters using ancient technology for modern communication, particularly a running gag involving a messenger bird, that are priceless. As the soccer match ramps up there is also a surprising amount of sports related humor. Subtle digs at prominent real-world teams and a caricature of sports commentators are welcome additions that even non-soccer fans will enjoy. Aardman’s humor goes beyond single jokes. Each scene is packed with unexpected sight gags that make the film worth a second viewing. It has the rare combination of both quality and quantity of jokes that will keep audiences of all ages laughing.

The simple plot may be a slight disappointment to some. While Park takes advantage of the humor that the Stone Age brings, the film quickly and unexpectedly turns into a sports movie with an unusual backdrop. The beats leading up to the soccer match follow the expected tropes including a training montage, a struggle to perform, and a new member that motivates the team. It’s impossible to not wonder what zany situations the cavemen could have faced if Park had leaned further into the prehistoric setting (more man-eating mallards would have been appreciated), but there is plenty to love about the story that is present. Despite its familiarity, it’s the unique spin Park adds that prevents it from becoming cliché. Under his direction, and with the work of his stellar animation team, Early Man is a consistently hilarious, beautifully crafted, and uniquely Aardman take on the sports movie.

4/5 stars.

Becks (2018): Great Music, Awkward Filmmaking

Filling the void left until John Carney makes another movie, directors Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell have created an indie music filled film that leans heavily into its romantic elements. After a rough breakup with her girlfriend and musical partner, Becks (Lena Hall) returns home to St. Louis (referred to as “the Lou”) to live with her mom. She reunites with her best friend from high school and starts playing at his bar and giving guitar lessons to earn some cash on the side. Her first student Elyse (Mena Suvari; American Beauty) becomes a closer-than-expected companion as Lena deals with the fallout from her remaining feelings about her ex and the delicate relationship she has with her deeply religious mother.

The success of the film relies on two elements: its music and the lead actress. Fortunately, these tend to be its strongest aspects. The music consists of soft, acoustic tunes soulfully sung by Hall. Hall is Tony Award winner and seasoned performer. Her voice is beautiful and each performance makes the most of the introspective lyrics. The singing is heartfelt and tinged with pain, but still inviting.

Hall as the lead makes Becks an endearing character. She may fall into several tropes about indie musicians and lesbians, but her energy and abrasiveness are incredibly likable. She drinks heavily and curses frequently, even as her mother protests, but there is a refreshing honesty to her behavior. While others in her town are concerned with propriety and appearances, her brazen language cuts through any artifice.

Becks’ barside performances are the highlight of the film.

The directors have done a great job of handling her orientation. This isn’t a persecution narrative, but she still has to deal with the judgement of people around her, including her mom. Becks points out that she needs to get back to New York City and out of the small-town life, but she handles herself well when faced with anything from unwanted setups at a barbeque to comments like “You’re the first one we’ve really ever hung out with”. She takes these things in stride as the film exposes these subtle interactions without letting them sidetrack the focus of the story.

Despite its strengths, the film’s writing and direction can undercut its impact. The film is, like its lead character, is messy. The great music and performance from Hall and intertwined with awkward filmmaking. Several conversations with the supporting cast are often inelegant with inconsistent pacing in the dialogue. It’s as if the actors are speaking at the speed of separate metronomes and that prevents exchanges from having a natural flow. This is especially true of the film’s comedic moments. The humor is intended to come from socially awkward situations and, on paper, they may have worked, but the film has more misses than hits. Hall’s sly comments are delivered too soon or too late to be effective and the timing issues can make the overall film feel amateurish. These problems don’t overwhelm the film’s strengths, but they do prevent it from earning a strong recommendation. Becks, like a talented aspiring musician, has plenty to like, but lacks the polish needed to become a larger success.

3/5 stars.

Holiday (Sundance 2018): Vacation’s All I Ever Wanted

A young woman dating a rich gangster, what could go wrong? First time director Isabella Eklöf brings us to the Turkish Rivera where Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne), her older boyfriend Michael (Lai Yde), and some of his associates spend their vacation. While Michael is attending to the criminal business that has afforded them their luxurious accommodations, Sascha befriends Thomas (Thijs Römer), a man sailing the Mediterranean by himself. Michael is quickly shown to be violent, abusive, and controlling. He has an explicit code of trust and mercilessly punishes those that breach it. When Sascha needs a break from Michael, she calls Thomas and begins courting him without ever revealing her relationship. This causes major problems when Michael spots her going to visit Thomas.

Eklöf favors clear, bold staging. Most of the film is composed of wide shots in deep focus with each moving character, whether main, supporting, or background, shown in crisp detail. She presents these scenes as if witnessing one story within a larger world. Sascha may be the protagonist, but we are unable to forget that she is just one among the many moving parts of Michael’s gang. Eklöf’s cinematography pulls heavily from the works of similarly unflinching director Ulrich Seidl (Paradise Trilogy). Like Seidl, she refuses to turn away from any of the film’s explicit violence. Her camera remains fixed, forcing the audience to witness whatever may be on screen and realize that it is not happening in isolation, that the world is still going on around it even as these vile acts occur.

Eklöf’s wide framing and restrained editing create an immersive, inescapable world.

There is a famous line from a Jean-Luc Godard movie that goes “Every cut is a lie” and Eklöf operates from the same school of thinking. She shoots conversations with both characters in frame to remove the need for crosscutting and creates moments of uneasy voyeurism. Suddenly, the film is no longer a directed experience. It is up to the audience to decide where to focus their gaze and, willingly or not, partake in the story. To put the effect in context, when I left the theater I saw a TV screen with a news channel playing and asked myself “Why isn’t this in Danish?”. Eklöf’s style forces viewers to merge into the world of the characters and the deliberate editing prevents us from clashing with the artifice of cinema.

As explicit as the actions on screen may be, Holiday’s true controversy from will come from its murky morality. When there are acts of abuse in film, the characters are immediately divided into victims (good) and abusers (bad), but Eklöf doesn’t conform to this standard. While Sascha remains a victim, her abuse propagates through her in unexpected ways and there is more to her than the seemingly childish behavior she initially displays. She is not the cowering captive we would presume and her abrupt actions lead us to question, even retract, the sympathy she has earned, despite her suffering. This is the rarely explored and deeply uncomfortable area Eklöf is interested in. She has created Holiday to show the corrupting nature of violence and the unwanted complications it brings to our simple conceptions of morality.

4/5 stars.

Leave No Trace (Sundance 2018): Growing Beyond Your Parents

Somewhere in the middle of the woods, a father and his daughter live alone in what seems to be a permanent camp. It is soon revealed that Will (Ben Foster; Hell or High Water) and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) are actually living in a national park, far off the beaten path to avoid contact with patrons. They are mostly self-sufficient, taking only infrequent trips to the nearby city for basic tools when necessary, until Tom is spotted by a runner. The authorities later arrive to take them away and they are placed into state-sponsored housing and assistance programs. For the first time in her life, Tom is exposed to society and the possibilities it brings.

The pacific northwest setting envelops each scene. The trees tower over the cast with the tops far out of frame. They create a harsh beauty to Will and Tom’s living arrangements. The film doesn’t shy away from the rain either. The characters are palpably soaked and their camp feels worn with use.

As Will and Tom are taken in by government agencies, director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) makes a small statement on their effectiveness. While their accommodations are good and the people assisting them care for their well-being, the mandated processes are shown to be ineffectual. Will has to take a comically long survey (400+ questions) that he is not mentally prepared for and Tom is immediately separated from him, her only companion. It may not be the focus of the film, but this slight commentary is welcome.

Tom’s growth to independence is well portrayed by McKenzie.

So often films examine parents dealing with difficult children, but here Granik is interested in the reverse scenario. As Will pulls them out of their generous state sponsored housing into more precarious situations, his actions raise doubts in his previously obedient daughter. Tom starts to realize that there is something beyond a desire to live outdoors going on with her dad. He has some sort of compulsion to get away from society and it soon revealed that Will is a veteran, likely suffering from PTSD. This is incredibly complex subject matter, but Granik is able to weave through it as Tom gains a better understanding of what she needs versus what her father needs.

Leave No Trace is a film about quiet, gradual realizations. Tom’s growth into an adult is a steady change. McKenzie’s performance is subtle and understated as she takes note of each red flag. Her arguments with her father are compassionate, honest pleadings rather than the shouts of an angsty teen and the composure she displays is impressive, as are her interactions with her father. Foster and McKenzie exhibit the unspoken understanding that comes with close relationships and their affection for each other is obvious. Typically, when there is a story of a man alone with his daughter in isolation there are heinous actions involved, but not here. In the face of Will’s PTSD driven actions, they are still a loving family. As Tom matures and must reevaluate her relationship with her traumatized father, hard, adult lessons are learned. Granik succeeds by making Tom’s journey to understanding her father gentle and nuanced.

4/5 stars.

Mandy (Sundance 2018): Trippy, Campy, Cage-y

This may be the most Metal movie made in years. Chapter headings, characters, and the overall art design of the film seem to have spilled out of a Megadeth album cover. Directed by Panos Cosmatos, the story follows a lumberjack (Nicolas Cage; Adaptation) and his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough; Oblivion) who live in a peaceful cabin until Mandy catches the eye of a cult leader and it is up to Cage to save her.

The beginning part of the film is what anyone who saw the director’s first feature, Beyond the Black Rainbow, would expect. Cosmatos loves his eighties aesthetics and particularly enjoys hallucinatory visuals. Early parts of the film are shot with high contrast color and, when drugs are introduced, VHS-era strobe effects. These scenes are uniformly gorgeous and, at times, surprisingly intimate. When the husband and wife are alone in their cabin there are moments of unexpected closeness shared between loved ones. Riseborough has limited screen time but she turns a supporting role that would have been little more than a plot device into a genuine character that shows motivation and depth of thought behind her actions.

It’s the second half where the film leaps headfirst into camp. Mandy is kidnapped by demons summoned by the drugged-out cult, but these aren’t the classic red creatures with horns. These are motorcycle and ATV riding humanoids wearing armor covered in nails and an unknown black liquid, shot mostly in silhouette. They wield grotesque weapons, swing heavy chains, and only communicate through snarls. When they are introduced, Cosmatos drops the glacial pace and focuses on playful violence between these hellspawn and the one and only Nicolas Cage. Instead of finding a gun, he casts and forges his own sinister looking battleax to fight the demons. Yes, the film is that Metal.

For the past decade or so, Nicolas Cage has become a running joke as a source of unintentional hilarity. His choices of terrible projects combined with his signature overacting have led to a cult following from bad movie lovers and Cosmatos fully embraces this baggage. He throws his star into increasingly preposterous action scenes from catching a demon in a private moment to a chainsaw fight. These scenes are made comical by Cage’s mere presence. A stupid, incongruous grin after landing a successful hit is enough to elicit laughter and Cosmatos times these glimpses of Cage-isms perfectly. If anything, his use of Cage is too understated (relative to some of Cage’s other roles). Cage has very little dialogue which deprives the film of the overcommitted line delivery he is known for. It may be one of his better performances in years, but the film didn’t necessarily need the best Nicolas Cage performance, it needed the most Nicolas Cage performance a la Vampire’s Kiss or The Wicker Man. The film will still be enjoyed by fans of midnight movies and by Cage’s own following, but it’s impossible not to wonder what a truly unhinged Nicolas Cage could have added to the film’s campy thrills.

3/5 stars.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Sundance 2018): True Compassion

In retrospect, it’s hard to understand how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made it into a second season, much less 31. As the film notes, it has, on paper, the makings of a complete failure. The production values are cheap and incredibly plain, the pacing is deliberate, and there are no pratfalls or easy humor. Comparing it to a film like Minions shows how it goes against everything we expect from entertainment made for children. Yet, despite this, the show not only persisted but made an indelible cultural impact on generations of viewers.

Morgan Neville, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker behind 20 Feet from Stardom, wisely focuses on this impact rather the man himself. This isn’t a traditional biopic. It does include background on Rogers’ early life and his family, but Neville is more interested in the ideas behind the show. He covers how Rogers had clear goals with his content. He wanted to help children grow and deal with the issues they may be facing, to an almost radical degree. The film pulls footage from the earliest episodes in the late 60s and early 70s where he explicitly talks about topics ranging from assassination to Watergate – on a children’s show! It was his direct tackling of issues that allowed him to help children without ever talking down to them.

Mr. Rogers’ genuine kindness comes through every frame of the film.

The film also addresses several common questions related to Mr. Rogers. The most common of which is of course: “Is he really like that?” The answer is an unequivocal yes. Neville does his research and includes interviews from Rogers’ wife, children, and collaborators on the show all of whom attest that he was indeed the man he appeared to be on screen. The film disproves several ludicrous rumors about Rogers’ background, but also examines why these rumors even existed in the first place. The sad truth is that the questions about his background come from a place of disbelief. How can someone really be that kind? It’s a shame that our first instinct is to doubt someone rather than celebrate their virtues and Neville points out how Rogers’ consistent behavior and beliefs caused many, especially those closest to him, to reevaluate their lives.

Ultimately, the message behind Fred Rogers’ show can be found in the film’s original title. It was initially called It’s You I Like after a song frequently performed on the series. Neville shows that Rogers wanted children to believe in their own value and feel loved, regardless of where they came from, and used his show as an entryway into their homes. Through countless interviews and fan interactions, Neville reiterates how this message of self-worth changed the lives of so many. Children heard his words as if being spoken directly to them. In some of the film’s many emotional moments, adults who grew up with the show thank Rogers’ for the influence he had on their lives and his profound effect becomes apparent.

At the end of my screening, the director shared the one requirement given to him by Rogers’ widow, “Don’t make him a saint”. Neville carefully avoids this trap because it would lessen Rogers’ impact. Saints and their actions are beyond the realm of regular humans and portraying Rogers as such would have absolved us of our own responsibility. Instead, Neville aims and succeeds in showing that the legacy Rogers left behind and the central emotion behind his life’s work is one we all can and should strive for: true, human compassion for all those around us.

five stars

5/5 stars.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (Sundance 2018)

When news broke that Robin Williams had committed suicide in 2014, the world was shocked. How could a man that brought laughter into the lives of so many be depressed to the point of taking his own life? Given his fame and the global response to his passing, it was inevitable that someone would take a deeper look into his life and director Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired) and HBO Films have done just that. The documentary follows Williams from his childhood to his early comedy career to his dramatic roles later in life and features several interviews with loved ones as well as footage from many of his performances.

The excerpts from Williams’ career prove one thing: he was a comedic genius. Each of his colleagues talks about how electric his energy was and the clips show how he could extemporize and create new jokes at any moment. It’s a never-ending joy to watch him perform and a delight to see how hilarious he can be even off the stage and when not on camera. A great moment shows him heckling the crew for an interview for telling him that his hair is slightly tussled and exemplifies how quickly he could turn the slightest comment into a laugh out loud moment with seemingly no effort. The documentary does a solid job of showing his rise to fame and the performances that led to each step in his career.

The film shows how Williams could steal the spotlight in even his guest appearances.

Through the film’s many interviews, we get a better sense of who his closest friends were. The most touching of these are with his eldest son, Zak, and Billy Crystal. His son provides a glimpse into how Williams was around his family and the effect that needing to entertain the public had on his private relationships. Billy Crystal, to my surprise, appears to have been Williams’ best friend and had a long, loving friendship with him. Crystal, along with some very personal voicemails left by Williams, explore some of the isolation that Williams felt. The candid nature of both interviews and clear affections each individual had for Williams can at times make the film almost hard to watch. Both are still very much in pain as they talk about Williams, but their confessions provide the deepest insight into the comedian’s life.

The major failing of the film is that despite its overlong runtime it doesn’t explore much of Williams’ psyche. We can infer some of the pain he must have faced before his tragic passing and there is evidence that he had been dealing with depression his entire life, but we’re left wanting for a better understanding of his state of mind. What pain was he dealing with? Why did he feel so alone when there were clearly many that loved him? Films about comedians, whether fiction or documentaries, often reiterate that being a comedian can be excruciating with several secretly being depressed. With Williams’ potentially falling into this category, providing more detail into his thoughts would have helped explain this unfortunate trend. As it is, Come Inside My Mind, offers sufficient information about Williams’ rise to the upper echelons of comedy and plenty of hilarious clips but, ironically, doesn’t include the desired depth into his thoughts.

3/5 stars.

Revenge (Sundance 2018): Fun, Cathartic Violence

In a PG-13 world filled with safe, widely appealing films, Revenge sticks out like a sore thumb. From first time French director Coralie Fargeat, the film is a rape-revenge story with a uniquely empowering spin. It opened to rave reviews at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival to the point that Sundance made an exception and allowed it into their Midnight film lineup despite the fact it had already debuted at another festival. At a remote and luxurious house, Jennifer (Matilda Lutz; Rings) spends a weekend with her wealthy – and married – lover Richard until a couple of his hunting buddies arrive unexpectedly. The four drink and party together until she is raped by one of Richard’s friends. When they try to cover up the crime, she escapes only to return with a score to settle.

Despite the seriousness of the topic, Fargeat keeps the tone of the film light. The sexual violence is, thankfully, not shown in detail and the movie instead focuses on Jennifer’s actions. This subgenre has always been filled with issues of exploitation and even misogyny and the director knows that. She completely plays into the tropes of these films with Jennifer’s introduction being a ridiculous satire of more leery movies. Jennifer joins the film with sun-kissed hair, wearing a bikini, and even sucking on a lollipop – an obvious wink at the Lolita trope so many female characters are subjected to.  As the lead, Lutz is able to shoulder the transformation from objectified trophy to relentless killer. Later in the film, her weary, but focused expressions show her conviction. There is a slight issue with her accent. Jennifer is supposed to be American, but that is never convincing with Lutz’s forced diction. Fortunately, it rarely holds the film back. After the violence begins, our heroine’s appearance completely changes into a determined killer and it is the male characters that become exaggerated.

Lutz makes a stark transformation from her initial appearance.

Again, the director plays up their villainy to comedic effect. The male cast becomes increasingly gross and lecherous with their own incompetence becoming more apparent with every scene. Fargeat isn’t interested in subtlety. She has clear intentions on how the audience should feel about each character and uses those feelings to justify the violence to come. When Jennifer comes back to hunt down her attackers, Fargeat relishes each stab and gunshot. Every death leads to equal parts cringing and laughing as the extravagant suffering plays out.

More than anything, the film has a love for bloodshed. Every injury is shown in grisly detail far beyond the realm of reality. Cuts spew blood to the point that characters are literally tripping in their own fluids. For some, this may lessen the impact of the film. Characters, particularly Jennifer, undergo major injuries and keep fighting with what should be incapacitating wounds, but they continue until the director wrings out every last drop of blood. It may not be the gritty, realistic survival story some are looking for, but Revenge provides the fun, cathartic violence that genre film fans will love without falling into the gender representation issues that are often tied to this type of story.

3/5 stars.

Lady Bird (2017): Honest Transition to Adulthood

After starring in and often co-writing several independent comedies and dramas, Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) finally makes her solo directorial debut. Having worked with many talented directors, her style bears some similarities to her previous collaborators, especially Noah Baumbach, but she has a voice all her own. Her first outing confirms her as a genuine talent able to bring intimate stories to life. Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan; Brooklyn) through her last year of high school as she deals with the trials and tribulations that come along with transitioning to adulthood and independence.

With her vibrant reddish hair and anarchic mindset, Lady Bird is the epitome of an awkward teen. She is clearly an intelligent young woman, but doesn’t have good grades or the right look and attitude to fall into the popular crowd. She wants to escape Sacramento and go to a college on the east coast, but doesn’t have the resume or money to do so. She longs to become someone more than she is. Someone more sophisticated than her current self. Ronan plays Lady Bird as equal parts defiant and confused as she stumbles through the ups and downs of her life. There are moments when her American accent falters, particularly when yelling, but overall it holds up nicely. She is essentially a younger version of the character type that Gerwig almost exclusively plays and her youth, and the naivete that comes with it, make her flaws all the more sympathetic.

Lady Bird’s often explosive relationship with her mother is the central conflict of the film.

Gerwig may have created the first coming of age story about a millennial, by a millennial. From the introduction of cell phones – rich kids first, of course – to the Justin Timberlake songs in the background of a party, the details of the setting ring painfully true to anyone who grew up in the period. Despite being shot digitally, Gerwig adds a noticeable film grain and a uses a softer focus that drenches the film in her nostalgia for the past. While she has stated that the film is not based on specific events from her life, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we are watching a fictionalized version of her own adolescence.

More than anything else, Lady Bird feels honest. Gerwig’s approach to her characters is reminiscent of the great Edward Yang (Yi Yi). She exposes the flaws, beauty, and heartbreak of ordinary people, normally hidden from view. Lady Bird’s struggles at school, with boys, and, most of all, her complicated relationship with her mother have a gentle, but raw veracity. Her bland suburban life isn’t glamorized, and each moment is immensely relatable. She may be deliberately contrarian, but she does so in a way that is too familiar for us to fault her. Each outburst or fight with her mom comes from deep-seeded insecurity. As a teenager facing adulthood, Lady Bird is searching for belonging in a changing world and Gerwig has a deep compassion for journey. Her sensitive touch and nostalgic tone make Lady Bird a beautiful, refreshingly honest, and poignant coming of age story for a new generation.

five stars

5/5 stars.