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Will Lady Bird Soar at the Oscars?

October 20, 2017

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Lady Bird and LBJ — together again! Okay, so writer-director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age comedy has nothing to do with the late First Lady, but it is opening the same day as Rob Reiner’s presidential biopic, Nov. 3.  While LBJ has been sitting on the shelf for more than a year (perhaps to put some space between Woody Harrelson’s performance as Lyndon Johnson and Bryan Cranston’s Tony- and Emmy-winning turn in All the Way) , Lady Bird has been earning raves on the festival circuit and seems more likely to win over Oscar voters.

Set in her hometown of Sacramento in 2002-3, Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical gem follows high-school senior Christine McPherson (the prodigious Saoirse Ronan, who should earn her third Oscar nomination at 23, after Atonement and Brooklyn). Dubbing herself “Lady Bird,” she’s determined to fly the coop for college in New York City, over the objections of her hypercritical yet loving mother, played with shattering sensitivity by Laurie Metcalf. A Tony winner for this year’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 and a three-time Emmy winner for Roseanne (a role she’ll soon reprise in the reboot), Metcalf could add an Academy Award to her collection. Now she just needs to sing or record an audiobook and she could have a shot at becoming a member of the EGOT club.

An actress who has frequently worked with real-life romantic partner Noah Baumbach, Gerwig shows a great facility for eliciting vivid performances; the impressive ensemble also includes Manchester by the Sea‘s Lucas Hedges (as a closeted classmate), Fences‘ Stephen McKinley Henderson (as a depressed priest) and Marjorie Prime‘s Lois Smith (as a good-humored nun). Like Tracy Letts, who plays Lady Bird’s soft-hearted father, they’re all veterans of the theater, and Gerwig’s love of the stage shines through in endearingly amateurish scenes from high-school productions of Merrily We Roll Along and The Tempest.

Judging by the warm reception Lady Bird received at the Writers Guild of America East screening I attended, Gerwig seems a shoo-in for screenplay nominations. Whether such a small, sweet film can compete in Best Picture and Director categories depends on how the rest of the field shakes out. It may have competition for Original Screenplay and Supporting Actress from Novitiate, another coming-of-age period piece about a Catholic schoolgirl (Margaret Qualley), only this one dreams of becoming a nun. The feature-film debut of writer-director Margaret Betts, Novitiate boasts powerful work from Melissa Leo as a domineering Mother Superior whose worldview is shaken by the Vatican II reforms of Pope Pius XXIII in the early ’60s. A nominee for Frozen River and a winner for The Fighter, Leo may find herself duking it out with Metcalf on Oscar night.

More importantly, though, with Lady Bird and Novitiate, we have two stellar films written and directed by women with strong, specific points of view. In the post-Harvey Weinstein indie-movie world, that’s reason to rejoice.

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