Tuesday 18 June 2019

Cinema: Lady Bird 5 star review - a gorgeously balanced portraiture

5 stars

Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges in 'Lady Bird'
Saoirse Ronan and Lucas Hedges in 'Lady Bird'
Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton in 'Finding Your Feet'

Hilary A White

The fruits of the human heart are just one of those things that can't be faked. For Greta Gerwig, this directorial debut is a personal emotional landscape committed to film, a self-penned comedy-drama rooted in her own Midwest upbringing. It is not necessarily biographical and doesn't need to be because its voice is so achingly authentic.

It has ensured that Lady Bird has not only secured a raft of awards nominations this season - five Oscar nods among them - but that audiences everywhere are destined to be left swooning by its unforced cocktail of charm, wit, heartache and beauty.

Saoirse Ronan: will we ever feel as proud of her? There is so much dexterity and vigour in her depiction of Christine, a spirited senior high-schooler trying to figure out just who the hell she is and insisting everyone call her "Lady Bird" as she does so. A life beyond Sacramento, her Catholic school and escalating rows with her mum (Laurie Metcalf) is on the horizon but firstly attention is required for best pal Julie (Beanie Feldstein), boy crushes (Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet) and that uniquely teenage area somewhere between bolshie swagger and angst.

You'd be forgiven for thinking Lady Bird was just another slice of Baumbach-esque mumblecore, all kooky irony and self-effacement. In reality, it is a work of real sophistication and emotional depth that makes it all the more infuriating not to see Gerwig and Ronan as front runners in the Oscar discussion.

This is gorgeously balanced portraiture that can laugh at its precocious heroine with much affection while tracing her formative journey with the dignity it deserves. A beautiful score and ensemble cast complete the effect. Lumps in throats and teary chuckles will erupt en route.

★★★★★ Hilary A White

I, Tonya

Cert: 15; Now showing

The 1970s-movie playbook of bad fashion, liberal smoking and prominent slabs of the era's pop music is a well-worn one. The formula also works wonders for the 1980s, another eye-roll of a decade that can seem like a naff alternate universe when rendered in a feature film.

This Oscar vehicle for Margot Robbie (think Black Swan with cursing) applies the recipe to a biopic of US figure-skating champ Tonya Harding and her link to a physical assault on arch rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.

Robbie is on fire as the fierce Olympian who was thrown a variety of handicaps throughout her life, from her viciously tough mother (a formidable Allison Janney) and good-for-nothin' husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) to the snobbish judging panels that frowned upon her coarse, white-trash demeanour.

Director Craig Gillespie has fun with the characters, the era and a general air of insouciance Harding injected the prim world of figure-skating with.

Scorsese-isms abound, from the felling of the fourth wall to the strutting soundtrack and slo-mo montages.

Writer Steven Rogers finds an effective mid-ground between clowning and real-life biographing, with a chunk of the humour emanating from Paul Walter Hauser as deluded bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt. Slightly misjudged are the scenes of domestic violence in childhood and marriage, their caustic message getting muddled by more smash hits and finger-clicking gaiety. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Finding Your Feet

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton in 'Finding Your Feet'

From the outset it's important to make clear that whilst I didn't think Finding Your Feet found its feet, a lot of people are going to really enjoy it.

Reminiscent of the second Marigold Hotel film, it's not very well written and is terribly predictable but this jaunty British comedy with a lovely cast and an inspiring Life begins at 60/ Be yourself message makes for easy, sometimes funny viewing.

Sandra (Imelda Staunton) is 60 and feels a lifetime of devoted wifedom is bearing fruits when her husband is made a lord and she becomes a lady. During the festivities however she discovers that he has been having an affair with her best friend (Josie Lawrence).

Distraught and desperate, professional snob Sandra seems to have nowhere else to turn but her estranged bohemian, council-flat dwelling sister Bif (Celia Imrie). At first the very uptight, twinset-wearing Sandra can find no common ground with either Bif or her dance group friends (Timothy Spall, David Hayman and apparently they couldn't get Bill Nighy so they got Joanna Lumley to channel him). But you know, things change, people change.

There are serious oversights in the plotting - not least that Sandra's daughter is made into a seriously treacherous wagon as a plot device, the characters are very cliched and it's all rather hackneyed.

But that is most likely nit-picking to a lot of people and fair enough, so for many there will be great enjoyment from a sweet, innocuous and well-intentioned film.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

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