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Coming in the wake of films in which a baby is shot, a father is taken from his children and Europe almost falls to the Nazis, Greta Gerwig‘s solo directorial debut, Lady Bird — a semi-autobiographical dramedy that had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday, and that I caught up with on Sunday at the Galaxy Theatre — offered a welcome bit of levity.
It’s not that Lady Bird, which Gerwig also wrote, is unlike anything we’ve seen before — indeed, we’ve seen variations of the story of a rebellious girl coming of age and clashing with her mother quite often, and as recently as last year, with the excellent The Edge of Seventeen. But what seemed to provoke such a strong response to this film from moviegoers and critics is its unusual sense of authenticity. That is owed largely to the fact that Gerwig, like her film’s titular protagonist, was — she has acknowledged — born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., educated in Catholic school, dated boys who turned out to be gay, dyed her hair unusual colors and generally rebelled against authority en route to her adult life, when she broke through as the darling of the mumblecore film movement. (That also probably explains why Gerwig said, during pre-screening remarks, “I’ve cried at every single intro I’ve done.”)
Significant credit must also be given to Saoirse Ronan, the magnificent 23-year-old actress who already has two Oscar nominations under her belt (for 2007’s Atonement and 2015’s Brooklyn), who threads a thin needle by making Lady Bird seem difficult but also likable at the same time. She’s great, as always. And it’s worth noting that the film, which A24 will release on Nov. 10, was produced by Scott Rudin, among others, and is filled with much of his top-notch New York theater stock company — not only Ronan (who recently appeared in his Broadway production of The Crucible), but also Laurie Metcalf (A Doll’s House, Part 2), who is pitch-perfect as Lady Bird’s brittle mom, Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences) as her drama teacher and Beanie Feldstein (Hello, Dolly!) as her best friend — plus Tracy Letts as her soft-spoken dad and Lucas Hedges (who appeared in several Wes Anderson movies en route to his Manchester by the Sea Oscar nomination) as one of her love interests. This makes for an ensemble of the first order.
Lady Bird seems likely to go over best with women, but the Academy’s demographics, despite recent efforts to increase diversity, still do not favor female-centric movies. Still, one or two such films manage a best picture Oscar nomination each year, and Lady Bird could well be one of them this year, especially with Rudin behind its sails. Even more likely, though, are noms for Ronan as best actress, Metcalf as best supporting actress and Gerwig for best original screenplay, and perhaps Letts as best supporting actor as well.
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