“Lady Bird” – a film review by Gary Chew
I won’t forget the large charge I got when seeing two movies back in the early 80’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola. You remember The Outsiders and Rumble Fish? Both were shot mostly in and around a city where I lived and worked for many years: Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a kick to see things you drive by in the course of your daily routine that suddenly show up on a big screen with movie actors telling a story. Serendipitously, I happened by a night shoot on a set for Rumble Fish that Coppola was directing near the east bank of the Arkansas River along Riverside Drive. It was like, maybe I was in Hollywood … not Tulsa. The dreaded La La Land Syndrome, I think they call it.
That’s how a packed house of Sacramento folks reacted to familiar locations in California’s capital city on seeing Lady Bird. Sacramento is where lots of this new Greta Gerwig movie was filmed not long ago. It’s Greta’s script and her debuting direction that pulled the picture together … with nary a glimpse of Greta, except for noticing her sitting in a front row at its screening in Sacramento one evening just before Halloween.
After opening with an appropriate quote from the author, Joan Didion (of Sacramento), it was a hoot seeing the golden downtown Tower Bridge spanning the Sacramento River. But everyone inside the Sacramento movie house (Tower Theater) totally freaked out with calorie-heavy-guilt when Gunther’s Ice Cream parlor on Franklin Boulevard at Castro edged into several frames as the delightful Lady Bird unfolded. High caloric cheers went up.
Albeit, Lady Bird isn’t all delightful, I add … for Greta’s principal character, who calls herself that, is really named Christine McPherson. She looks to be about 17. But Christine, done by the so magnetic Saiorse Ronan, doesn’t want to be called “Christine.” “It’s Lady Bird,” she conversationally conflicts about too often with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf).
Ronan, of course, is the autobiographical Greta: young, pretty, smart, feisty, sassy and coming of age at warp speed smack dab in Sacramento in the early 2-Thousand-Sees. Christine is not totally rebellious. Her hair is only dyed partially pink, and she’s still a virgin, even though the without-a-clue teenage boys are beginning to circle.
Mother Marion works double shifts as a nurse. Father Larry McPherson has been recently laid off and needs a gig, bad. Dad is played by Tracy Letts (Tulsa native), who is an absolute sweetheart of a papa. Tracy’s got the role down solid. Too bad he doesn’t get more face time, even though when he’s up on screen, you love his character and how he’s playing it. More of Tracy, please.
Metcalf almost has complete control as the loving but take-no-prisoners mama. It took me nearly ten minutes of Lady Bird running time to realize Metcalf is also seen as Mary Cooper, the good Christian lady from East Texas who, once upon a time, bore Dr. Sheldon Cooper … who, in turn, became an atheist after heading west to Pasadena and becoming pals with other university nerds on The Big Bang Theory.
Speaking of religion, Christine is enrolled in Catholic school, even though, in autobiographical terms, Ms. Gerwig appears to be a closet Unitarian. I can only assume she got a Catholic education in her city of birth since much of the film reveals some really funny predicaments Christine encounters with her teachers who are nuns, as well as the priestly males tenured there on campus. Funny, funny, funny.
I saw Frances Ha in 2012. It’s another delightful Gerwig movie in which she actually has the lead. A scene in that picture told me that perhaps, Greta might have predilections toward the more generally liberal persuasions of a Unitarian Universalist, even though she went to Catholic school growing up. The church scene in Frances Ha was shot at the Unitarian site in Sacramento where I’ve been known to occasionally show up at.
Yip, Lady Bird isn’t the first film I’ve seen that’s connected to Greta Gerwig wherein I got a “Oh, I’ve Been There Too” rush. The Frances Ha scene even has the then actual U-U minister in it. Honest!
I sat right behind Greta’s actual mother during the screening. Afterwards, as I was exiting, I saw Greta’s mom talking with friends. I introduced myself and complimented her on her daughter’s latest film. I also told Greta’s mom that I had seen the sequence of Frances Ha shot in that U-U venue on Sierra Boulevard … mentioning that I sometimes drop by there for a service.
We said our goodbyes and I walked on to chat with others in the Tower Theater lobby. Shortly, I saw Greta’s mom with a gentleman in tow. They were walking straight towards me. Mrs. Gerwig then introduced me to the new U-U minister, whom I’d never met before.
Now I know where Greta Gerwig gets her spunk. Her mom covers the bases for everyone.
Oh yes, Joan Didion’s opening quote used to get Lady Bird underway is as follows, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”