Thursday, March 1, 2018

Film Review: Lady Bird

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

I hated this movie.

And my hate for this movie is compounded by the fact that there were a number of Catholics who reviewed the film and said that it was largely pro-Catholic.

I am not sure what movie they were watching, but the casual sacrilege of this film precludes it from being anything close pro-Catholic.

Lady Bird is (I'm assuming) the autobiographical account of writer/director Gretta Gerwig's senior year of high school.  Gerwig has long been an independant darling.  And while she has charisma, there doesn't seem to be much else working for her.  All of the movies I have seen with her in it have been terrible, including this one.

The main character is Christine MacPherson (Soirse Ronan) who demands inexplicably to be called "Lady Bird."  She starting her senior year of high school at Immaculate Heart in the early 2000's.  She is not Catholic, but attends because of her parents' worry about violence in public schools.  Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is the sole breadwinner for the family while her father (Tracy Letts) has lost his job.  Also at their home is her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend Marielle (Shelly Yuhan).  Lady Bird pals around with her sycophantic best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and she gets into relationship misadventures throughout the movie.

I would try describing the plot but it virtually non-existent.  The movie feels like we are reading entries in a pretentious teenagers diary.  There is very little to connect the narrative.  All we get a little vignettes about Lady Bird's odd life.  Interesting characters and storylines are abandoned just when they get interesting, probably because they do not revolve around the main character.  In that sense, Gerwig has captured a strong sense of entitlement and narcissism that many young people feel.  For example we have a priest who suffers from depression and a gay Catholic who is terrified about coming out to his parents.  Can we get any follow up on any of the interesting developments?  Nope because they don't involve Lady Bird.

And if this movie was my only impression of Catholic high school, I would never want to send my children there.  As a teacher in a Catholic high school, I don't think that the film is dishonest when it shows the moral struggles of many of our young people.  But there is almost no virtue present in their lives.  Lady Bird engages in drinking, drugs, and sex with her classmates.  But she also casually munches on unconsecrated communion hosts (while lying on the floor of the sacristy and letting her skirt fly up), calls a nun the c-word, vandalizes said nun's car, and makes fun of an aborted fetus at an all-school pro-life assembly.  My level of disgust with this character continually rose and never found redemption.

Those who call the movie pro-Catholic point to the fact that most of the priests and nuns are portrayed positively, which they are.  But their kindness is so benign that it has no effect in the sinful lives of their charges.  It shows a pop culture compromise of not insulting the Catholic faith as long as it makes no demands to change our lives.  Once it does, as with the pro-life speaker, it will be subject to merciless ridicule.  And are Catholics so desperate for pop culture crumbs that we will take the fact that our faithful are not depicted as monsters as some kind of positive endorsement?

At least Gerwig has enough distance from these years that she can see Lady Bird's flaws.  The movie doesn't make Lady Bird the world-wise ingenue in a world of retrograde minds.  Her parents come off so much better than she does.  But even here we can see the flaws.  They send their child to Catholic school for the safety, but care nothing for its culture.  When Lady Bird asks Marion about sex, Marion doesn't enter into a discussion of morality and value, only safety and maturity.  Lady Bird is the like the path from the parable of the sower: she is surrounded by God's word but it is snatched away and never takes root.  Almost all of the other teenagers also come off horribly, particularly Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) who projects how deep he is by wearing black, rolling his own cigarettes, and reading Howard Zinn.  These characters would make me laugh if they didn't make me want to cry.

The only reason this movie gets any merit from me are the performances.  Ronan captures the pressures and contradiction of being a teenage girl in America today.  And she plays Lady Bird with as little sentimentality as possible, so that we can see her clearly, warts and all.  Metcalf is also very good as Marion as we see her frustrations at trying to get her self-absorbed daughter to grow up and think about other people first.  In her face, I saw all of my frustrations as I watched the film.

But beyond that, there is nothing special about this movie.  There is certainly nothing Oscar-worthy about it (apart from those two performances).  And it is without a doubt not a positive portrayl of Catholic education.

Lady Bird wants to be a film that soars, but instead it feels like it never hatched and is now a bad egg.

image by Yasir72.multan

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