Tag Archives: Greta Gerwig

“Lady Bird”

LOUISA: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Garden variety coming of age films are so prevalent that it’s all the more refreshing when something truly personal and original like “Lady Bird” comes along. The small scale intimacy of the story about a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood in Sacramento feels raw and real, its cozy focus creating a universal anecdote that relives (with bittersweet affection) a part of life that’s filled with constantly fluctuating highs and lows. This is exactly the type of indie filmmaking that we need more of, and the awkwardly charming Greta Gerwig has hit a home run with her equally awkwardly charming directorial debut.

The film gives an unromantic glimpse into middle class life in 2002, where we meet Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), her recently laid off and depressed dad (Tracy Letts), and her hardworking, steadfast mom (Laurie Metcalf). The film is perfectly cast, with Ronan and Metcalf being the real standouts (the two are at their best when pushed into blow-up clashes between mother and daughter, an emotional tug of war between a teen impatient to break away from a hometown that’s beneath her and a mother so desperately hanging on that she’s unable to express her love and disappointment). It’s apparent the actors felt emotionally connected to the material while on set, and their performances bring a biting honesty and empathy to the family dynamics of Gerwig’s screenplay.

Gerwig has said the film is semi-autobiographical and she writes with an authentic voice, taking great care with her story (a story told with the hindsight of being a grown up). She brings a confident wisdom, an earnest insight, and a fresh voice through a witty and bright script that mirrors her true-to-life, free spirited personality. It’s as if the film exists within its own glowing aura. With Gerwig at the helm, the film has a particular hipster quirkiness written all over it, yet its sunny disposition and sharp humor is abundant with sincerity and avoids falling into the trap of being overly cynical or jaded.

The film is so observant that I could totally and wholly relate to our adolescent heroine through a realism that instantly transported me to the past. While I grew up in a different decade, some of the situations seemed like actual pages ripped out of my own high school experience. There are plenty of moments in a teenage girl’s life where the trivial becomes momentous and the momentous becomes devastating, and they are presented here with a poignant and compassionate vibrancy that I’ve rarely seen so accurately captured on film.

“Maggie’s Plan”

LOUISA: 2 STARS MATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

In the latest indie to set itself out as an ‘intelligent’ alternative to the classic formulaic rom-com, “Maggie’s Plan” aims high, makes a strong effort, but sadly fails. It feels like another one of Woody Allen’s more cleverless films, one that has decent enough writing but struggles to elicit any genuine laughs.(This film is written and directed by Rebecca Miller, adapted from the original Karen Rinaldi story).

Everyone’s favorite quirky hipster actress, Greta Gerwig, is perfectly cast at the titular character. Her charming demeanor works and plays well off of Ethan Hawke, who turns in one of his best performances as a professor of ficto-critical anthropology (if you find his title hysterically funny then you, my friend, are the target audience for this movie), and Julianne Moore (as a brilliant yet cold Columbia professor). The cast gives it their all; too bad these actors don’t have a better script to work with.

This messy and uneven film can’t seem to make up its mind regarding the overall tone. It’s part screwball comedy, part hipster philosophy and part family dramedy. There’s a huge emphasis on a toddler (the admittedly cute Ida Rohatyn) that was lost on me as a non-parent. I think the kid stuff is just too much and is completely unnecessary to the story.

Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader are wasted in unremarkable supporting roles; their characters are never developed and seem to exist solely for a few punchlines (that aren’t very funny). There’s only a shell of a plot and not much ever happens in relation to it. The film is just a bunch of talking and a string of cute incidents that are all (sort of) related to Maggie’s big plan. The film is very strained and the big “twist” ending is something that only a true moron couldn’t see coming from a mile away.

I didn’t hate this movie but I also can’t figure out who in the world to recommend it to. Maybe it would make a decent rental if you’re a fan of Gerwig or Hawke.

MATT SAYS:

Indie cinema “it” girl Greta Gerwig stars in the new movie from Rebecca Miller (“The Ballad of Jack and Rose“). While it’s sort of interesting and mildly entertaining, there isn’t a whole lot going on in “Maggie’s Plan.”

Maggie is an educator at a local community college in New York. Maggie becomes smitten with John (Ethan Hawke), a well-liked anthropology professor that is working on a new fiction novel. John is married to and has kids with Columbia professor Georgette (Julianne Moore), but leaves Georgette for the youthful Maggie. After a couple of years with him, Maggie grows tired of John, who is too self-absorbed to ever pay any attention to her. Realizing that Georgette is still in love with John, Maggie plays matchmaker and works to get the two back together so that she can get John out of her life, guilt-free. This is all in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling anything.

These are mildly interesting characters dealing with modern problems in a New York filled with hipsters and intelligentsia (the always-delightful Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph have minor roles as the latter but are, truthfully, wasted in this movie) who are too smart for their own good. Despite their impressive educations, when it comes to relationships they are clearly emotionally stunted, dealing with their problems no better than adolescents. The idea is kinda fun on paper, but in execution it’s not all that compelling.

Gerwig and Hawke turn in reliably solid performances, but neither of them really shine. Moore appears to be channeling Maude, her heavily-accented, odd-duck character from “The Big Lebowski,” which makes her too performance too distracting to appreciate. The movie works okay as a diversion from loud summer spectacles, but is not good enough to make any lasting impression.

Sundance Recap: “Wiener-Dog”

LOUISA: 2.5 STARS
MATT:  3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Director Todd Solondz is a freaky-weird guy with an odd sense of humor to match, so it goes without saying that I kept waiting for something horrible to happen to the titular dog (do I really need to add a “spoiler alert” warning here?) Most of the scenes that worked featured the adorable little wiener dog (including an absolutely gleefully bizarre intermission break that got funnier and funnier as it went on), but sadly as the movie progresses, we see less and less of the pup.

The movie’s four major storylines were evenly split 50/50 in their overall success: my two favorites featured Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin (bringing their own take to Dawn Wiener and Brandon from Solondz’s film “Welcome to the Dollhouse” in performances so raw that I’m sure to remember them at the end of the year) and another with Ellen Burstyn and Zosia Mamet (as a homebound grandma and free-spirited granddaughter who visits after 4 years because she needs money). Unfortunately, the storylines with Danny DeVito as an irrelevant film professor and a particularly foul opening sequence and story with Julie Delphy and Keaton Cooke (in one of the worst child actor performances I’ve ever seen) served to sink this movie more than keep it afloat. While I appreciate the true independent voice of Solondz, this movie didn’t succeed on enough levels for me to recommend it.

MATT SAYS:

“Wiener Dog” is a series of stories interconnected by the admittedly adorable title character. Some of these stories work, and some of them don’t. Some of Director Todd Solondz previous efforts (like “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness“) were as inspired as they were upsetting, “Wiener Dog” was neither. It was a middle-of-the-road effort that is, and will be, easily forgotten. On the strength of the two “good” stories, I give it: 3 stars.