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Posts Tagged ‘greta gerwig’

Saoirse Ronan

“LADY BIRD” My rating: B+ 

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R

That Saoirse Ronan gives an Oscar-worthy performance in “Lady Bird” is expected. She is, after all, perhaps the greatest actress of her young generation. (Exhibit One: “Brooklyn.”)

What’s really surprising about this funny/furious coming-of-age yarn is the voice behind the camera.  “Lady Bird” is the first feature soley written and directed by Greta Gerwig, the actress known as indie filmdom’s go-to gal for slightly ditzy heroines (“Greenberg,” “Frances Ha,” “Mistress America”).

Gerwig gives us not only a first-rate dramedy about a young woman’s growth from cranky teen to independent woman, but also the most incendiary mother/daughter movie relationship since “Terms of Endearment.”

Combining savage wordplay, satiric insights into adolescent life and a genuine sense of family dynamics, “Lady Bird” is simultaneously familiar and fiercely original.

Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is a high school senior (the year is 2002) and  pissed off about nearly everything. Her general dissatisfaction may be behind her decision to change her name to Lady Bird…or to at least demand that her parents, friends and teachers call her  that. A new name may lead to a new life, right?

In the film’s first scene Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are reduced to tears while driving down the highway listening to a book tape of The Grapes of Wrath.  It’s a rare moment when mom and daughter are on the same page; seconds later Lady Bird’s temper flares and she impulsively bails from the moving car. (She will spend much of the movie with a cast on one hand.)

The source of the argument is college.  The two are returning from a scouting trip to regional universities, but Lady Bird has her heart set on something back east, a place with “real culture, like New York…or Connecticut.” Marion, a glum financial harpie, warns that there isn’t any money for an Ivy League education.  A small state college the next town over will have to do.

This is the film’s central conflict: a smart, ambitious and somewhat spoiled adolescent versus her penny-pinching, essentially joyless parent.  (Lady Bird’s dad, played by Tracy Letts, is a laid-back  noncombatant who offers moral support to both mother and daughter but not much else, having been downsized from his tech job.)

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Greta Gerwig, Annette Bening, Elle Fanning

Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Annette Bening, Elle Fanning

“20th CENTURY WOMEN” My rating: B

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In his 2011 film “Beginners,” writer/director Mike Mills presented a fictionalized portrait of his father, who at age 75 announced that he had cancer and, by the way, was gay, too.

With “20th Century Women” he does a similar service for his mother, delivering a funny and emotionally substantive look at an unconventional household of feminists in the mid-20th century.

Much as Christopher Plummer won a supporting actor Oscar as the father in “Beginners,” Annette Bening is gaining awards buzz as the divorced matriarch in “20th Century Women.”

Set in the ’70s, the film centers on 55-year-old Dorothea (Bening) and her 15-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann).

Dorothea is a curious case, a chain-smoking, mildly eccentric traditionalist in her personal life but a low-key crusader when it comes to social issues. (That conflict is reflected in the musical soundtrack, which pits the likable Talking Heads against the snarling punk of the Germs and Suicide.)

Dorothea lives in a big crumbling house undergoing perennial restoration. She’s got a hunky, laid-back boarder, William (Billy Crudup), who serves as carpenter, mason and auto mechanic.

There’s another renter, the henna-headed Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a blend of punk and hippie sensibilities who is undergoing a cancer scare.

And then there’s the young beauty Julie (Elle Fanning). Two years older than Jamie, she uses his bedroom as her refuge from an unhappy home life and a series of apparently joyless sexual couplings. At night she often enters through his second story window, scrambling up the construction scaffolding that surrounds the house.

Jamie is desperately in love with Julie (so are those of us watching the movie), but she keeps it platonic. She needs a friend and sounding board, not another young dude who wants to paw her. (“It was so much easier before you got so horny,” she sighs.) (more…)

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WIENER-DOG-01“WEINER-DOG” My rating: B+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A new Todd Solondz movie should be approached with equal parts anticipation and trepidation.

Trepidation because Solondz’s take on the human condition is a grimly amusing collision of the tender and the terrifying. And because while other American filmmakers cannily hedge their bets, diluting the astringent bite of their messages (or avoiding messages altogether), Solondz appears incapable of delivering his shocking assessments at anything less than full strength.

Oh, he’s got a sense of humor. But it’s a comic vision so dark that many won’t find it comic at all.

His latest, “Wiener-Dog,” follows a format most famously established by the great French director Robert Bresson in 1966’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” the story of a hard-laboring donkey who passes through the hands of various cruel or indifferent human beings.

But “Weiner-Dog” is also a sequel of sorts to Solondz’s debut feature, 1995’s “Welcome to the Doll House,” which followed the unhappy adolescence of outsider geek Dawn Wiener.

The canine of the title is a female dachshund bought from a pet store by a middle-aged man (the playwright/actor Tracy Letts) as a gift for his son, Remi, who has only recently beat a cancer diagnosis.  Mom (Julie Delpy) is furious — one look at her sterile, uber-modern home tells us she has enough issues with a messy little boy, much less a shedding, shitting animal.

Little Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Heather Matarrazo, the star of “Dollhouse…” back in the day) lives an isolated life and is thrilled with his new pet, whom he dubs “Wiener-Dog.” The pooch is the one touch of spontaneous joy in his chilly world and his love for Wiener-Dog only intensifies with his parents’ growing irritation with this latest member of the household.

For Wiener-Dog whines and barks all night from her cage, refuses to be house trained and cannot obey Dad’s frustrated commands (“Heel, motherfucker!”). And when Remi objects to his  pet being spayed, Mom delivers a ghastly story from her own childhood about how her pet dog  was “raped” by a neighborhood cur named Muhammud and died giving birth to stillborn puppies. (Like so many memorable moments from the Solondz canon, you don’t know whether to recoil in horror or collapse in bitter laughter.)

Following an epic case of canine diarrhea — recorded by Solondz in a long tracking shot that feels like a nod to the traffic jam in Godard’s “Weekend” — the dog is sent to the vet’s to be destroyed.  But a lonely veterinary aide (Greta Gerwig) adopts Weiner-Dog, aptly renaming her Doody.

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Greta Gerwig, ***

Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke

“MISTRESS AMERICA”  My rating: B (Opens Aug. 28 at the Glenwood Arts)

84 minutes | MPAA rating: R

My appreciation of the filmic collaborations of director Noah Baumbach and comic actress Greta Gerwig (“Greenberg,” “Frances Ha”) has been an on-and-off affair. Their latest, “Mistress America,” is definitely an on.

It is, in fact, about as close to a classic screwball comedy as we’re likely to witness in this era of “duh” cinema — wonderfully acted and impeccably timed.

The film begins with an insightful five-minute montage depicting the early days on an NYC campus of Tracy (Lola Kirke), a freshman who dreams of a career as a writer. Instead of life-changing experiences, Tracy finds herself lonely and isolated.

Relief arrives in the form of Brooke (Gerwig), a 32-year-old whirling dervish of energy and ambition who introduces Tracy to the odder corners of the Big Apple.  Tracy’s mother and Brooke’s father are engaged; the two women will soon be stepsisters.

Brooke immediately begins introducing Tracy to her bohemian pals as “my baby sister, Tracy.”

Here’s the thing about Brooke:  She’s all fervent ideas and no followthrough. Her current project is a restaurant that would be a bizarro amalgam of eatery, community center and hair salon.

Brooke has a motormouth that is several blocks ahead of her brain; she converses in a form of East Coast Valley Girl-ese with a stream-of-consciousness style worthy of James Joyce. She’s exhausting, but oddly delightful.

One acquaintance says of her: “I don’t know if you’re a Zen master or just a sociopath.”

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frances“FRANCES HA” My rating: B-  (Opens May 31 at the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Plaza)

86 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Frances Ha” finally won me over. But it took a while.

The latest from director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) finds him reunited with Greta Gerwig, the vaguely daft co-star of his 2010 “Greenberg.”

Gerwig was about the only thing about that uber-dry Ben Stiller comedy that I enjoyed, and since then she’s appeared in a rash of indie and mainstream films (“No Strings Attached,” “Arthur,” “Damsels in Distress,” “To Rome with Love”)  and become an item with Baumbach.

Gerwig co-wrote and plays the title role in “Frances Ha,” which was shot in crisp black and white in a style that is hugely reminiscent of Woody Allen’s masterful “Manhattan.”  For the first hour or so I was very much on the fence. This is one of those comedies that is more funny strange than funny ha-ha

The twentysomething Frances lives in New York City where she struggles with relationships and employment and making ends meet.

She’s an apprentice with a professional dance company and wants to move up the ladder there, but she’s kind of clumsy and dorky, certainly not prima ballerina material.  She’s much better at leading a dance class for the small fry, where her childlike persona melds effortlessly with those of her students.

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