aNewDomain — I seem to be the only film reviewer on Earth right now who is willing to denounce ‘Lady Bird’ for the truly awful film it is.
And unless you’ve seen it twice, you have have no idea how awful it is.
I don’t understand why critics aren’t taking this failure of a film to task. Maybe it’s the hype. Maybe they’re cheap. Or maybe they’ve only seen it once.
I went back to see this stinker of a movie a second time just to see if I could quantify all the many flaws here. That’s what I did. Here’s what I found out.
How does Lady Bird suck? Let me count the ways …
French cinema is supposed to be reliable. It is reliably reliable.
But go watch a French flick like ‘Le Samorai,’ ‘My Golden Days,’ ‘Murmur of the Heart,’ ‘Rendez-Vous,’ and ‘Les Valseuses.’
Every single one of them blows Lady Bird way out of the water. Seen against that backdrop, Lady Bird is even more disappointing.
Some of the worst flaws in this movie are readily apparent out the gate. Others are glaring only on further inspection. For instance, I didn’t notice how director Greta Gerwig totally destroys any chance of creating empathy (or sympathy) with its main character.
Yes, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan’s character) is obviously supposed to be an unreliable narrator and a less than benevolent hero. But this teen hero, or antihero, is so small-minded and intellectually challenged that it is really hard to care anything about her. As such, Gerwig has broken a cardinal rule of dramaturgy.
And that’s just the first problem with it ..
Once Thrown, Twice Shy
Given that I detest Gerwig’s overhyped and incredibly flat and poorly conceived film, it may surprise you that I did go back and watch it again.
Well, I did it because I had to convince myself it really was as bad as I thought it was the first time around. And this time, I set out to quantify all the myriad of things, large and small, that make it so sucky.
Most of those things can be traced right to the so-called hero, Lady Bird.
Dumbest girl ever?
The character of Lady Bird isn’t supposed to be especially sympathetic, of course. She’s supposed to be a difficult teenager in the midst of difficult challenges. It’s the classic coming of age thing.
Only problem is, in Lady Bird Gerwig has constructed a character that is remarkable in that she is so unremarkable. Her problems, her reactions, her problems are all stereotypical ones.
Lady Bird is no goody-two-shoes, obviously, but she is somehow portrayed as conniving, cheating, vapid, disloyal, snotty and social striving all at once.
The phony personality isn’t believable at all. And it appears to be just the director’s excuse to put her in full Basic face. It’s not that she looks like some vapid white New York City college girl with rocks in her head but really has a heart of gold — or an evil plan — or a purpose that matters. Oh, no.
She’s just the dolt this film makes her out to be.
There is nothing interesting or unique about the journey here. Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) stated objectives — getting laid and going to college as far away from her parents as she can manage — are a big yawn. Unfortunately, it’s a stereotypical problem that drives this film’s narrative — if you can call it a narrative.
Let me explain …
Narcissistic without a cause
It’s worth noting that, right after the movie opens, we find ourselves watching an intense conversation between Lady Bird and her mother (Laurie Metcalf).
Weirdly, presumably because Lady Bird can’t handle the stress of it, Lady Bird flings herself out of the car. A moving car.
It’s a bizarre scene. She just jumps out of the car. Is it immaturity, suicidal ideation, failing meds? We never get past charicature of resentful teen girl to find out.
But that, like most of the details in this film, doesn’t matter either. Having your kid jump out of a moving car because he or she can’t “handle” talking to you would seem worth revisiting, but it’s never mentioned again.
As for Lady Bird, she emerges from the spectacle with a broken arm in a cast, which becomes the device that gets Lady Bird talking to a new, potentially more sympathetic character. That’s the closeted gay boy, Danny (Lucas Hedges). Now, you might think that in 2002, when this movie is set, Lady Bird might actually have some working gay-dar. She doesn’t.
Lady Bird couldn’t be more of a self-centered character, and frankly, in films as in real life, that gets old real fast.
So naturally, she dates him.
You have to suffer through more of this film to see Lady Bird dump her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), so that she can win points with a bunch of arrogant, insufferable preps.
You have to suffer through still more to get to where Lady Bird gives up on the school play. And she says she has no patience for Danny’s burgeoning sexuality. You want to care, but you can’t.
In fact, if you’re still watching at this point, you will probably feel the most emotion you’ll feel in the entire movie. Don’t dump Danny, you’ll think. Don’t quit the play. They’re not that interesting, but they’re more interesting than anything or anyone else in this film.
Just say it: She’s a dolt.
The fact that Lady Bird shows no sense of loyalty to her own best friend might make you think she is being set up to be a complex, conflicted character.
It’s not true. She’s a dolt. She’s short-sighted, short-tempered and narrow-minded. She’s a terrible judge of character. But be forewarned: Her limited ethical abilities are matched only by our truly limited intellectual ones. There is not much there.
There is some talk in the film that supposedly presents Lady Bird as the victim of financial pressures, but please. The poverty theme here is totally fake. I mean, who is anyone kidding? This family isn’t poor. And this bratty, spoiled kid goes to a private school, for crying out loud.
And she is nasty, too. When her stepbrother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) gets into UC Davis, she insults him. Predictably, she lets loose with a classic spoiled brat hissy fit, presumably so Miguel could have her spit out an accusation that he “only got accepted into Harvard because he was a .. minority.”
Miguel calls Lady Bird a racist for the comment, which spins the plot off the rails, too. The way the action unfolds suggests that we are somehow supposed to feel sorry for Lady Bird, but that doesn’t square. How are we going to sympathize with a mean, vacuous cookie cutter of a resentful teenaged girl — especially now that she says something like that?
And then there’s the teen sexuality theme. We learn that Lady Bird may lose her boyfriend if she doesn’t do something about her preference for dry humping. Presumably, that suggests something about her emotional remoteness or whatever, but it is really hard to care.
The big test
The big conflict happens, I should add, when Lady Bird steals and then ditches her teacher’s notebook so as to get rid of all her grades and records. And, because the grade book is gone, Lady Bird and the other students are (conveniently) required to determine their own grades for the course via honor system.
Naturally, Lady Bird lies, which is about what we expect from this far-fetched turn of events. That lie, in turn, gets Lady Bird into college.
Along the way, comes the big reveal — that Lady Bird isn’t trying to be a rebel so much. Really, she just wants to fit in. She’s a conformist. The ultimate conformist.
But this cut is the deepest
She listens to Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews, but only a little.
And it’s worse every time you see it
Some movies that don’t work the first time around actually are a bit better the second time. You can forgive a lot, I guess, for the right actors, plot and characters.
Not Lady Bird. It’s worse the second time you watch it. Way worse.
The chief failure of Lady Bird, when all is said and done, is that it has detestable characters and events we just can’t care anything about. The character of Lady Bird, too, is posited as a conflicted, non-conformist protagonist who at last discovers she really wants to fit in and be accepted more than anything.
It doesn’t work, mostly because our hero (or antiher0) is too flat and limited a character to spark our interest.
I regret giving Lady Bird a higher grade in previous reviews, I can say that. This movie gets a hard D minus.
On second viewing, it gets a big fat F.
For aNewDomain, I’m Cole Smithey.