Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
(R, 93 min.)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Marion McPherson: I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
Christine McPherson: What if this is the best version?
I would have liked it a lot better if it weren’t for the excessive praise. Lady Bird is a decent enough coming of age film in its own way. Its characters seem real but not particularly likeable, and their struggles typical, but certainly not inspiring.
And so the deconstruction continues. In Iron Will, filmed in 1994 and supposedly taking place in 1914 or so, young Will Stoneman risks his life to save the family farm and get his tuition for college.
In Lady Bird the unemployed father takes out a second mortgage as collateral for his daughter’s college loan to attend some unnamed East Coast college. As though there weren’t any decent universities in California, which is where Lady Bird and her family live. And it’s not as if the East Coast school has some special academic attraction for the self-named Lady Bird – her real name is, I believe, Christine. But it is exotic, and sophisticated, she assumes. When in reality, the most memorable scene we get of her there is drinking, vomiting, and passing out at a party, (followed by a trip to the hospital.)
What Lady Bird is, the girl – not the film – is a rather empty and self-centered teen looking for meaning and attention. Her efforts are comic, foolish, and only sometimes moving.
Despite her aspirational name, Christine aka Lady Bird, is ordinary, very ordinary. She is not a downtrodden soul locked in dire straights, but a middle class girl in a loving family, even if her mother shares her acerbic tongue. The big screen and the Oscar nominees once centered on supposedly ordinary people, i.e. Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront or Judy Garland’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
Terry remembers a chance for the same kind of distinction that Lady Bird craves:
I coulda been a contender.
And in many ways Oz’s Dorothy, whose family and farmhands in her native Kansas are too busy to listen to her troubles, is not unlike Lady Bird.
But both Terry Malloy and Dorothy, no matter how ordinary their lives, had a bigger than life presence, an energy and inner verve captured on the big screen. On the other hand, Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird purposely tries to smother any spark of life.
Her limp hair with is half-hearted red dye tinge frames a face that sucks in life rather than emitting it. With her slumped posture and sullen face, Lady Bird is smaller rather than bigger than life. Even on the big screen and in the darkened theater there is no magic.
And maybe that is what Hollywood wants, now, at least in the “quality pictures” they haul out during the Oscar-Christmas season like some treasure hiding in plain sight in an attic full of cheap and vulgar castaways. As though somehow “nondescript” is the new marker of excellence.
And while that might liven up the young, nihilistic critics looking for their own reflections on the screen, it is unlikely to lure many of the rest of us back into the theaters. Perhaps Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard was correct after all: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Are we “drowning in mediocrity” as iconic critic Rex Reeds says? Perhaps not, but if the very authentic yet uninspiring Lady Bird’s preeminence is any indication, I side with Rex.
Maybe we can rephrase the biblical quote about a man never being honored in his own town. In the film Lady Bird it is the hero, or I should say the protagonist, who doesn’t appreciate her own town.
Sacramento is the Midwest of California, according to Lady Bird. And that is not meant in a good way. Perhaps it is Different Drummer’s Midwest roots that precipitated my jaded view of this critically acclaimed film, setting the tone early on for a skeptical reception.
At any rate, this recipe from the acclaimed Coral Reef Restaurant in Sacramento is quite delicious, tender where Lady Bird is harsh, tasty where she is bitter.
Sacremento Foil-Wrapped Chicken
Patty Conroy of Sacramento and her brother are trying to re-create a meal using recipes from Sacramento’s now-closed Coral Reef restaurant. Conroy says the Coral Reef was her family’s all-time favorite restaurant back in the day.
In February 2011 The Bee’s Food & Wine section did a special feature on the popular Coral Reef restaurant, which included several of their recipes. This recipe was shared at the time by Suzanne Munoz of Orangevale, who said it was given to her in the 1960s by a source close to the Coral Reef kitchen.
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, uncooked
2 slices fresh ginger root, grated
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
20 foil squares, 6 by 6 inches
Vegetable oil, sesame oil or hot chili sesame oil and soy sauce, for foil
2 cups oil for frying
Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes, about 1 1/2 inches thick. You should have about 5 pieces from each breast. Slice scallions so that you have about 7 pieces from each one. Set aside.
Combine ginger, sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add chicken cubes to mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the foil. Place one drop of oil (vegetable or sesame) and one drop of soy sauce onto each piece of foil. Place one cube of chicken and one slice of scallion on each piece of foil. Fold foil in half to make a triangle. Fold up two open sides to seal and crimp.
In a frying pan, heat 2 cups oil to 350 degrees. Deep-fry the triangle packets for about 4 minutes, pushing down occasionally. (Do in batches, if necessary.) Chicken is done when brownish bubbles appear breaking through the folds. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.