Nov 11 2017

Lady Bird. Senior year. The struggle is real for mother and daughter alike.

maureen

I was lucky enough to see Ladybird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig at the Paramount during the Austin Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. If you get a chance to see this, go.

Coming of age is a universally awkward, confusing, embarrassing and harrowing experience for teens and for their parents. Sometimes characters in stories that everybody has experienced in one way or another get lost in the meta-ness of the story. Not here. This is Christine’s and Marion’s story. Gerwig, Ronan, and Metcalf speak them into being with such true voices that I felt like an aunt standing on the sidelines watching a family drama unfold. I know them. I love them. I’m laughing at them and with them. These are unique people and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address the angst and agony or the hopes and dreams floating around a girl’s senior year.

High school senior Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is trying to figure out who she is, so much so that she changes her name to Lady Bird. She is determined to escape the mundane town she’s lived in all her life. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is trying really hard to help with practical, realistic advice but also fighting to retain a little protective control over her daughter for just a little bit longer. Marion and husband and father Larry (Tracy Letts) are also facing financial pressures that play into Christine’s college decision. Letting go is harder for Marion than for Larry.  Surrounded by drama Larry just wants to support the two women he loves and make the fighting stop so he can read.

The writing is so funny, but continuously genuine and believable. The pace is quick in the first half of the film, the way a senior year rushes by. The second half, though still funny, takes some serious turns and slows down a bit, letting us experience the growing tensions and the confusing second-guessing that happens as graduation approaches.

I’m happy to see Lady Bird is doing so well in the “specialty” or “art” house theaters. The script, the acting, and the directing are ridiculously great. I really loved it. This is Gerwig’s first time directing. At the interview after the movie she is just as real and approachable as her characters. I hope she tells lots more stories. And, at some point I hope Gerwig lets us revisit this family. I seriously need to hang out with the Macphersons again.


Dec 28 2016

Manchester by the Sea: muddling through tragedy

maureen

I don’t usually recommend tear-jerkers because there is enough tragedy to deal with in real life, but Manchester By the Sea is so honest, so real, and so captivating that I think it’s worth the vicarious pain. The performances alone are worth seeing. It’s depiction of grief is profoundly genuine. And it considers three really important questions: Is there a timetable for getting over devastating life experiences? Is not moving on from our heartbreaks selfish? Are there wounds that just won’t heal?

Lee Chandler must confront all his ghosts when he returns home to deal with his older brother’s death and make provisions for his nephew. Lee is a withdrawn janitor with painful past while his nephew Patrick is a self-centered teen hockey player with two girlfriends and a terrible rock band. The back and forth between Lee and his nephew offers moments of dark humor that pain frequently creates. Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges give fantastic, truthful performances. Really, everyone playing the main characters gave spot on performances that made the film feel so real.

Lee’s story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and conversations with people from his small Massachusetts hometown. Most of them either can’t understand how he hasn’t moved on from the past or can’t stop judging him for what happened in the past. We’ve all known people who seem to take a long time to recover from grief and/or guilt, and some that never seem to. I don’t want to give this movie away, so, even with the spoiler alert, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Manchester By the Sea is full of real people muddling through life’s hard experiences. The story builds to that expected character arc and abruptly ends mid-muddle. Because that’s the way real-life stories are. We don’t all resolve at the same time. Not every experience comes with closure. This story isn’t about closure, it’s about love. In spite of their imperfect processing of devastating events, these characters love each other.

Back to the questions. Is there a timetable for getting over devastating life experiences? I was personally affected by this movie because I think I rush this process. This movie made me pause and ask whether people like Lee hide from people like me. I realized that I can’t possible know what it takes to get over something I haven’t experienced. Nor can I know what it’s like to be someone other than myself getting over something I have experienced. So, thanks, author and director Kenneth Lonergan, for the instructive parable. I might never tell anyone to “get over it” again. At least about anything important.

Is refusing to move on selfish? Lee’s pain isolates him from people who care about him. Lee’s pain prevents him from having the relationship with his nephew that his nephew needs from him. Lee knows this but, I think for him, moving on feels selfish. For Lee to move on minimizes the loss he’s experienced and the guilt he feels he owes. Holding onto it makes it remain important. Lee doesn’t know how to process the importance of what happened in the past without allowing it to define him in the present and future.

Are there wounds that just won’t heal? Well, Frodo had to leave Middle Earth to get relief. Maybe Lee can’t survive in Manchester, at least as he is now. The film seems to build a false expectation that all this misery might be be miraculously lifted by letting go, opening up, changing attitudes, or doing something else. But the ending suggests that resolution is not that simple.

One would hope that our relationships with God define us more than the core memories and climactic experiences in our life stories. Nevertheless we all walk around with unresolved pieces of our stories. Faith is not an instant cure for heartbreak or recovery. Forgiveness does not always result in an instant lifting of guilt feelings. God applies His healing balm to our open wounds, over time, often through relationships with others, and later, to our scars. But sometimes our wounds close very slowly, and trying to put a timeline on closure only pours salt on the wound. Manchester By the Sea reminded me that love is patient and kind. We contribute to healing not by trying to “fix” each other or to rush whatever we are processing to resolution, but by loving each other in the unresolved middle of our muddles.


Jul 31 2014

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is so good. Go see it.

maureen

Watching Boyhood is a reminder that all our lives are a series of seemingly insignificant vignettes that both reveal and shape who we are. Boyhood follows an episodic narrative style. It is driven by character and theme rather than plot. Shot over a 12-year period, scenes play out like a series of snapshots that communicate the mood and tone of what is happening each year.

It’s no accident that photography plays an important role in the film. Boyhood is like watching time-lapse photography. The audience sees Patricia Arquette’s hairstyles and weight fluctuate as she ages 12 years in a little under three hours. Ethan Hawke’s face develops lines. Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater grow up before our very eyes. Continue reading


Jul 25 2013

Pacific Rim was conflict on an intimately enormous scale

maureen

Pacific Rim is another of the many apocalyptic movies out this summer. I was intrigued by the science in this movie, but mostly I enjoyed the action and the wholesale destruction that makes this a summer blockbuster. Because Guillermo Del Toro directed the visual style is artistically interesting. Since Pacific Rim is a summer blockbuster and not Pan’s Labyrinth his themes aren’t too ponderous but I found a few to ponder nonetheless.

Much of the action takes place in Asia with obvious tributes to Japanese monster movies, especially Godzilla. The name, Kaiju is a reference to the stable of monsters from Japanese film. Del Toro says that Goya’s painting The Colossus and George Bellows‘ boxing paintings were also inspirations for the look of the film. There is an intimacy in boxing and wrestling that is not present in other types of combat. Their weapons are their own bodies. For me, this idea of internal, intimate engagement was the most intriguing theme. Continue reading