Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a stirring coming-of-age story focusing on the relationship between a high school senior and her mother. Saoirse Ronan plays Christine, but insists that everyone call her “Lady Bird”. Her relationship with her mother, played by the excellent Laurie Metcalf, is fraught with complications – just like any mother-daughter relationship. Gerwig’s story has obvious autobiographical aspects, lending the film a refreshing matter-of-fact feeling. Lady Bird is a flawed protagonist, and her mother isn’t perfect either. Still, Lady Bird grows up a lot in the last year of high school, despite all the awkward romances and familial tension. Though detractors may classify Lady Bird as a film that doesn’t take many risks, its themes are timeless, perfectly executed, and packed with realism. Lady Bird is a resounding success from a first-time director, a seemingly-effortless bit of cinematic mastery.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not a kind film, and it is not an easy one. It is thoroughly dark and more than a little sad, but has some comedic moments. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as some kind of demented moral play – a grim farce meant to explore the depths of human depravity and whether there is any potential for absolution. As such, the film sets up a horrible situation, doubles down a few times, and then challenges the spectator. Along the way, the performances are outstanding, and though some of the characters feel stereotypical or one-dimensional, that’s the point. Three Billboards is a poignant look at despair and hope, hatred and forgiveness, and prejudice and love.
“But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather”
— Fantine, Les Miserables
Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea is a gut-punch of a film dressed up in the doldrums of everyday life. On the surface, the plot is universal and relatable: a man returns back to his hometown on account of the sudden death of his older brother, and must make the arrangements and look after his nephew in the aftermath. There is surprising wit and humor in the story, heavily sarcastic and ball-busting, and it helps to offset at least some of the sadness. Because a darker and sadder mystery bubbles up through off-hand comments, whispers, and flashbacks. This non-linear storytelling method is used intelligently and sparingly, and suffices to wrench maximal emotional devastation from the audience. The result is a wonderful but sad film that can count itself as one of the best of the year.