“Lady Bird”

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird might have 2017’s best prologue and epilogue in film. It sums up the deep love between mother and daughter.

Set in 2003 Sacramento, high school senior Christine (Saoirse Ronan) rebels against her catholic school and overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf). She goes by Lady Bird, secretly applies for New York colleges against her mom’s wishes, and often stirs up commotions in her catholic school. The film takes place over the course of a year and primarily focuses on Lady Bird’s ups and downs with her mother.

I’m a sucker for coming-of-age films, but I haven’t been blown away by one since 2013’s The Spectacular Now (another A24 film). Well, Lady Bird floored me. It’s poignant, funny, heartbreaking, complex, and near-perfect.

The film feels personal thanks to the realistic relationship of Lady Bird and her mom. Metcalf delivers a career-best performance as Lady Bird’s mom, who’s unpleasant and yet empathetic. The 23-year-old Ronan delivers a committed and convincing performance as the 17-year-old Lady Bird; she knows that her mom has a big heart, despite the unpleasantry. In one tense argument over laundry, Lady Bird understands her mom’s behavior when her mom mentions her own tragic upbringing. There are more powerful character-driven moments throughout the film.

Lady Bird also deals with other serious topics such as politics, religion, sex, and homosexuality. Some of the topics are handled with a sharp satirical edge (the abortion assembly scene had my theater laughing uncontrollably) while others are handled emotionally. There’s a subplot involving Lady Bird’s closeted boyfriend Danny (a terrific Lucas Hedges) who’s torn between his identity and family, which is devastating. Each character Lady Bird meets gives her a life experience and prepares her for the reality of growing up.

Back to the opening and closing scenes, they sum up the complexity of Lady Bird’s relationship with her mom. We see they deeply love each other, but also resent each other for various reasons.

I hate the term “crowd pleaser,” but given my audience’s reactions to Lady Bird, this is a crowd pleaser. It’s also a likely Best Picture contender in the upcoming Oscar season.

Grade: A+

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“The Girl on the Train”

Okay, “The Girl on the Train” is NOT another “Gone Girl.” If viewers are able to keep that in mind watching this ridiculous thriller, they should be able to enjoy it for what it is.

Emily Blunt plays Rachel, a broken alcoholic divorcee. She constantly harasses her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and Tom’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). As an escape from her misery, Rachel spies on an attractive neighbor Megan (Hailey Bennett) and fantasizes about Megan’s seemingly perfect life. Her outlet is broken when Megan goes missing and all fingers are pointed at Rachel, who seeks the truth behind Megan’s disappearance.

“The Girl on the Train’s” greatest aspects include one of Emily Blunt’s finest performances of her career, brilliant uses of an unreliable narrator, and some disturbingly provocative commentary on toxic relationships. It also has an unbalanced tone, making it an odd balance of neo-noir and Lifetime melodrama.

Starting with the good, Blunt’s portrayal of Rachel is raw and heartbreaking. We want her to find redemption and get her act together, so we’re endorsed in her story. Theroux and Ferguson both provide solid performances as Rachel’s “nice guy” ex-husband and the new wife, who has more depth.

The unreliable narrator is mashed in with drunken flashbacks, providing a unique spin on the trope. The pacing and tone don’t always compliment the mystery and twists, which is the film’s downfall.

Every major subplot involves characters sleeping with each other, revelations about pregnancies, and exposition regarding relationships. Laura Prepon (“That 70’s Show”, “Orange is the New Black”), an underrated and talented actress, is sadly used as an exposition tool.

I was also mildly disappointed that for a film with predominantly female cast, it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Every conversation between two female characters revolves around one of the male characters, so that was frustrating at times.

The movie picks up in the final act once we get back to the main mystery, so its strong points are an engaging first act and a thrilling third act. The second act is the film’s weak link.

I accepted “The Girl on the Train” was just an entertaining soap opera with great twists and one Oscar-worthy performance.It’s worth seeing if you’re on a date, but otherwise, wait until it’s on DVD or Lifetime.

Grade: B