The Two Reviews: Lady Bird and Mute

Lady Bird (2017, Universal Pictures)
Directed by Greta Gerwig, featuring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf and Lucas Hedges

Lady Bird is a classic coming of age movie that explores what it means to be a teenager in small town America. Subtly exploring teenage angst, the film manages to visit religion, virginity, sexuality, class, depression and friendship. The story of Lady Bird is multi-layered, has depth and subtle references to darker themes. But it is light enough not to overawe the viewer.

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The lead character of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a typical teenage girl with a strong personality who regularly clashes with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf). In fact the character development of Lady Bird and her mother are so realistic that their characters and interactions made me reflect on my own personal relationship with my mother and the arguments we had when I was the same age as Lady Bird. The relationship between daughter and mother is one of regular tension and stress but ultimately of deep love. The strength of the characters is so powerful it emotionally moved me. Lady Bird’s father is no exception to the deep character development throughout the movie, and also has dark undertones of depression in his life as discovered by Lady Bird. Her broader family, despite appearances of being an unusual mix of adopted and inter-racial children, are in fact more normal in the real world.

The first half of the movie builds a picture of a smart, generally good kid with a tinge of a rebellious streak. Lady Bird is encouraged by her best friend to try out for the school play where she meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), and starts a relationship with him. Not long after they start dating Lady Bird discovers that her boyfriend is actually gay. This incident throws her into a spiral of rebellion, and dropping her friendship with her best friend to become part of the “cool” crowd and pursue a new relationship with another boy. Like most teenagers, Lady Bird is keen to escape her own world and applys for colleges out of town. Ultimately though, Lady Bird comes to realise that her home town in Sacramento is actually where she feels happiest.

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The movie is embedded with subtle drama but lacks sufficient development to keep some movie-goers entertained. The strong character development, great acting and subtle elements of darkness, however, are enough to keep you watching. Lady Bird is well worth watching.

Reviewed by Annabelle Davis – Rated 4/5

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Mute (2018, Netflix)
Directed by Duncan Jones, featuring Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux

After the muck that was Warcraft, the talented Duncan Jones, who gave us one of the greatest sci-fi films of the last 20 years (his remarkable debut feature Moon in 2009), desperately needed to garner respectability with his new film Mute. And many people, like myself, were willing it to happen, mainly because he seems to be a pretty cool guy, and his dad…well…his dad was David Bowie. Unfortunately, Mute does not deliver the good vibrations. It has a non-descript plot; a lead who, there is no spoiler to say, is mute, under-utilised and disjointed; a series of unnecessary cartoonish characters as plot devices; and a disappointingly wavering level of quality in its set design. The whole film is in disarray from the beginning – what exactly are we meant to take from a story about an Amish boy who loses his ability to talk in a boating accident and thirty years later gets caught up in an under-developed love trifle involving an Indian strip club waitress and a murky American war deserter/surgeon? Well, in answer: very little.

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The problem is that there was much potential here. A rich tapestry of influence is abound in Mute. The nods to Blade Runner are obvious. The setting in a future-polis of Berlin takes inspiration from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, as well as Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis. There are scenes too that borrow tropes or elements from famous cinematic moments such as the bowling alley in The Big Lebowski, the operation scenes between Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H, the chase scenes in The French Connection, and the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. There are even a few welcome references to ‘Lunar Industries’ and the clones of Sam Bell from Moon (apparently we are in the same universe as that film). There is also a nice touch in Jones paying homage to his late father, not only as a dedication in the closing credits but also in his setting of Berlin, where Bowie of course made three of his arguably greatest albums – Low, Heroes and Lodger. Speaking of music, let’s also not forget to mention the presence of composer Clint Mansell’s work, who yet again provides a wonderfully-judged score that makes the most of the clunky futuristic atmosphere.

For all the typical future ‘feel’ to the visuals in Mute, the messy composition only lends it to its standing as shallow and clichéd. The unbalanced storyline does not provide any backbone either. In this current world, where sensible but variant perspectives on gender roles and sexuality are welcomingly being offered more in film and television, Mute somehow manages to take a step backwards. We only follow the movements and actions of straight male characters, who are variously presented as abrupt, violent, vengeful, narrow-minded and heroic. The female and homosexual characters are…yawn…either table staff or prostitutes. Even worse, Jones does not appear to present any form of subtle commentary to these characterisations – it is what it is he seems to say. Alexander Skarsgård’s lead character, when using a large carved wooden mallet as a weapon to beat some bad guys to death with (in the name of love, it must be said!) seems relevant in a patriotic, Steven Seagal way, but in this highly-charged world where audiences are enjoying more nuanced and multi-layered performances in blockbusters and arthouse films alike, he appears silly and misplaced. He is also just flat-out boring.

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Jones’ decision to use the hyper-popular streaming service Netflix as his platform for release appears to have been a major backfire too. Why would you not release a clearly intended cinematic form of film on the big screen? I assume the answer to this lays with financing and the fact that production on the film was in ‘development hell’ for a number of years. I would also assume that he decided to go down this route in the hope that one day it would become a cult classic, even if it hadn’t the funds to make it to the cinema theatres. This may yet come to fruition for him, but for now, let’s just call it out for what it is – dull, dull and duller. Not recommended.

Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 1.5/5

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