Belfast Telegraph

Lady Bird review: A well-crafted coming of age tale starring Saoirse Ronan

 

By Damon Smith

Since 1929, only five women have been nominated for the coveted directing statuette at the Academy Awards and only one of those hopefuls won - Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

Indie actress Greta Gerwig is the latest filmmaker to recalibrate that shocking imbalance with her magnificent directorial debut, a sublime coming-of-age comedy drama set in turn of the 21st-century Sacramento.

Although Lady Bird isn't strictly autobiographical, Gerwig draws on fond memories of her Californian hometown for a beautifully observed Valentine to mother-daughter relationships and youthful exuberance, infused with unabashed warmth for her well-drawn characters.

Gerwig's sharp writing has attracted a stellar cast led by Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the spunky title character and her hard-working mother, who generate friction every time they are in close proximity.

Sardonic high school student Christine McPherson (Ronan) yearns to escape the suffocating regulations of her Catholic high school.

"The only exciting thing about 2002 is that it's a palindrome," she bemoans to her mother Marion (Metcalf), who works as a nurse at the local hospital. Christine's laidback father Larry (Tracy Letts) reluctantly plays peacemaker between mother and daughter, who insists on being called by her "given name" of Lady Bird.

One of the nuns at school, Sister Joan (Lois Smith), casually remarks on Christine's theatrical flair and the teenager auditions for drama club alongside impressionable best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).

To Christine's dismay, Julie wins a lead role opposite dreamy classmate Danny (Lucas Hedges) while she is consigned to the ensemble.

As hormones rage and Christine searches for acceptance from her peers, especially popular classmate Jenna (Odeya Rush), her friendship with Julie becomes strained and she pursues romance with an older boy, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), who has yet to master the art of seduction.

Lady Bird is a near perfect confluence of direction, writing and performance.

Being incredibly picky, there are several instances when Ronan's accent falters and her melodic Irish lilt comes through loud and clear.

However, these are tiny missteps in an otherwise engrossing performance that earns tears and laughter in generous equal measure.

Four stars

I, Tonya review: Get your skates on to see this drama

According to a title card at the beginning of Craig Gillespie's blackly humorous biopic, I, Tonya is based on "irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews" with US figure skating champion Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly.

The film illuminates a grubby episode in sporting history - the 1994 attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan - with considerable aplomb.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers invites the deeply flawed protagonists to talk directly to camera, offering contradictory and overlapping testimonies that make sense of the chain of events that led to Harding's ban from competitive skating.

Margot Robbie inhabits the title role with fearlessness and ferocity, tossing out expletives as if her life depended upon it as Harding suffers grievously at the hands of those closest to her.

Sebastian Stan oozes slippery charm as the man who marriesTonya and later exerts his marital "right" to lay his hands on her in anger.

Scenes of domestic abuse are extremely upsetting and Gillespie pulls no punches in his depiction of the couple's volatile relationship.

As a young girl, Tonya (Robbie) learns to ice-skate at the behest of her domineering mother LaVona (Allison Janney), who secures Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) as a coach for her daughter.

LaVona is far from impressed with Jeff (Stan) as a potential son-in-law but she is powerless to stop Tonya from falling under Jeff's spell.

She trains hard and becomes the first American athlete to land a triple axel jump in competition but judges refuse to give Tonya the high marks she thinks she deserves.

In stark contrast, Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) is lavished with praise and repeatedly overshadows Tonya's achievements. As frustration grows, Tonya's bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jeff hatch a loopy plan to hire two low-level criminals to attack Kerrigan.

I, Tonya is a barbed satire across the class divide, anchored by tour-de-force performances from Robbie and Janney, the latter monstrous as a chain-smoking matriarch, who preaches cruelty as kindness to jaw-dropping excess.

Four stars

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph