Tag Archives: Saoirse Ronan

Mary Queen of Scots

This is the story about the crazy relationship between two cousins, both queens. And the jealousy and the machinations between the two – one, the Queen of Scotland, who perhaps believed she should also be the Queen of England and everything else as well. But while this movie is obviously about politics, it’s more importantly a movie about gender politics.

Short history lesson:

Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII (the guy who liked to behead all his wives) and Anne Boleyn, who suffered her execution just two and a half years after her daughter’s birth. Their marriage thus conveniently annulled, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, and when her father died, it was a half-brother, Edward IV, who claimed the throne. Not for long, though, and somewhere down the line, the crown did land on 25 year old Elizabeth’s head. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I was probably not a virgin, but she never married, and she never bore a child.

Her cousin, Mary I, became Queen of Scotland when her father King James V died when she was just 6 days old. 6 days old! Regents, including her half-brother, ruled in her stead. When she was 6 months old, King Henry VIII proposed (eventual) marriage between her and his son and heir, Edward, thus uniting Scotland and England under one crown, but when Scotland protested, a war dubbed the “rough wooing” ensued. To protect their young Queen, 5 year old Mary was sent to live in France, where that King also decided to unite France and Scotland under one crown by betrothing his 3 year old heir to Mary. They married when she was 15; he became King of France and royal consort of Scotland, but he died shortly after and she went home to Scotland to finally, officially, sit on its throne (and marry twice more). By this time her cousin Elizabeth I was also on her throne over in England, but there were some sticky points in the wills and order of succession, and it was always a thorn in their relationship that perhaps Mary had a claim to that crown as well.

Back to the movie.

MV5BN2FjNmUxNDUtZWIxMy00MmI1LWJkMDMtOWQ5NzgwOWI3NDVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) and Mary (Saoirse Ronan) are not that different. Elizabeth is said to have ruled by “good counsel,” relying on trusted advisors. History depicts her as moderate, cautious, and perhaps indecisive. Mary, on the other hand, was more forward, and clever, not that that stopped her own regents of plotting against her. She pushed Elizabeth to name her England’s heir presumptive. Elizabeth retaliated by proposing her trusted childhood friend as Mary’s next husband; Elizabeth felt she would be able to control him. Mary was too savvy to refuse outright but the relationship came to nothing.

Mary sought to strengthen her crown my marrying smart and creating alliances. And yet she understood that any man who married her would eventually try to steal her crown for himself. Still, producing a (male) heir would also strengthen her position, so marriage must be tolerated. Elizabeth, meanwhile, felt that marriage was too great a risk to her crown – that would only encourage plots against her. Of course she was expected to marry and produce an heir, but she refused.

The movie reminds us that in the 1500s, it sucked to be woman so much that even being the queen was not enough. Still the men would plot against you – your own sons, husbands, and brothers. Mary’s husband(s) and brother(s) both plotted against her. Her third husband was her second husband’s murderer, and her rapist. She was forced to abdicate in favour of her one year old son, James. Elizabeth, by contrast, ruled for 44 years, until her death. At which point the crown went to – yes, that’s right, it went to Mary’s son James. So this weird relationship exists between the two – they are sisters and rivals. No one else can understand this unique pressure to rule a kingdom as a woman with all the vulnerabilities that that entails.

While the movie may have benefited from a more focused approach to narrative, I found this endlessly fascinating and frustrating. I very much enjoyed the performances from both Robbie and Ronan, and I very much approved the race-blind casting. There are people of colour in the English and Scottish courts; this is a rather novel idea for a period film, but director Josie Rourke has a lot of experience in the theatre where this type of colour-blind casting is much more popular. As well it should be. We’re telling old stories, but those stories should be told by people representative of today.

I had not heard great things about this movie but I think people have just been watching it wrong. In 2019, women are still wondering if they can “have it all”: work, family, mental health, balance. In 1568, Mary and Elizabeth wondered if they could have it all: respect, religion, the freedom to marry whom they chose, agency over their own lives, and the ability to cut off each other’s heads if it came to it (and it always did).

 

On Chesil Beach

Two young people are trying to have sex, apparently on their wedding night, which is important to note because they’re old-timey virgins who are nervous and awkward and don’t really know where things go or for how long or how hard.

Somewhere between toes and tits, Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) reminisce about their entire relationship, through flashbacks. Spoiler alert: MV5BMmFlOTkyYjQtYWQyYS00ZDY3LWE3ZjktZDE4Y2Y5M2EyMzQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_they have a history! Their courtship was often influenced (often negatively) by their pasts, by their families, by what they know and what they don’t. Sound familiar? That’s probably because it’s true of absolutely every human who has ever lived. So how did this movie get made?

Well, Ian McEwan wrote a wonderfully descriptive book, as he does. The kind of book that languishes and meanders around in a poetic bath of language. On film, oh gosh, it’s beautiful, and Saoirse Ronan is luminous and wonderful, but there’s not a whole lot of action. Haha, even saying the word action in this context feels bizarre. I mean, on their hottest date, Edward chastises Flo for her lukewarm bird watching.

Anyway, if you find it hard to imagine what sex was even like in 1962, before the sexual revolution had really…revolved…well, consider yourself lucky. On Chesil Beach gives you an eyeful in all its pasty glory, which doesn’t actually involve any nudity because this is the generation that has never seen their partners naked. Anyway, the fumbling is real. Activities are prematurely aborted, or, well, not quite. Things are said. Things like: that’s revolting, which is hard to recover from. It begs the question: does sex just sometimes…not happen? ‘Frigid’ is another word you don’t recover from.

Anyway, the whole thing feels rather minor, and that’s not a comment on poor Eddie’s manhood. It’s just very introspective, and perhaps a visual medium is not quite the best path for this story. And the movie just stretches on and on, beyond what feels right or makes sense. Certainly beyond my patience, and beyond the tether of my empathy for these people. The film fails its characters and fails the audience by not having much of a bigger picture. At least with a book you can hurl it across the room – hell, I’m sure I’ve even broken a window or two launching a stupid book right through it, but a movie? Those faces loom so large and yet I cannot reach out and slap them, and that is the greatest travesty of all.

I Could Never Be Your Woman

This was such a weird movie I’ve waited two weeks to write the review and still haven’t found the angle. Not that it’s urgent: it’s from 2007, so you’re not exactly waiting on the edge of your seat to hear my proclamation. You’ve maybe even already seen it, but then again, probably not. It didn’t exactly make a big splash in the land of movies.

Here’s an interesting thing: it’s a film by Amy Heckerling, the woman who wrote and directed Clueless. This movie is about a woman, Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer), who writes a MV5BMTk3NDc3ODk2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDc3NDI3._V1_TV show that looks and sounds a lot like Clueless. It’s about the very coolest of high school students, and stars adults who don’t quite pull off their roles. Among them – Stacey Dash, a crazy lady who was 28 when she played Dionne in Clueless and 40 when she reprised the role of too cool for school adolescent in this film. Paul Rudd, only a couple of years younger, turns up in this one too, playing a teenager on set and the role of younger suitor to Rosie, who is mortified. And, of course, flattered, and maybe interested.

Not that Rosie has a lot of spare time to consider younger lovers. She’s trying hard to save her show, and to co-parent with her youth-obsessed ex-husband (Jon Lovitz), and to parent her wise-beyond-her-years actual teenage daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan in her film debut – yeah, this kid was always going to be a star).

Anyway, there’s three paragraphs to distract from the fact that I still can’t quite make a pronouncement. The truth is, there’s some juicy satire here. It has lots to say about a woman’s insecurities, and generational differences in falling love, and the impossible standards of show business. But for every great little quirk (many provided by Ronan – her character parodies songs sort of a la Weird Al, but with a feminist twist, likely years beyond her grasp) there’s a lot of rom-com cliches to wade through. But there’s the added bonus of Tracey Ullman as a personified Mother Nature, guiding us through the dark forest of female self-esteem. Heckerling clearly has a lot to say and I bet this film was quite personal to her, but she spirals out of control a few times. In the end, if you’re a sucker for Paul Rudd (and let’s be honest: who isn’t?) or if you’re curious how a little girl with a strong Irish lilt fares blasting out the angry lyrics of a certain Canadian songstress, go ahead and look this one up.

TIFF: Lady Bird

ladybird_01In making a coming of age film about a high school student, Greta Gerwig has come into her own – as a writer, as a director, as a woman with a voice.

Lady Bird is the name that Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself. It’s her senior year of high school and all she wants is out. Out of Sacramento, out of her parents’ house, out of her own skin which doesn’t quite seem to fit anymore. Like most teenagers, Lady Bird is kind of a d-bag. She thinks she knows more than any adult she’s ever met. She’s self-centered and blind to the needs of others, but in the sympathetic hands of Ronan, we don’t hate her and we certainly never tire of her. Her flaws should push us away but instead they endear us – maybe even remind us of ourselves at that age.

Her relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is relatable as heck and among the best I’ve ever seen written or performed on the big screen. Their relationship is a series of clashes between pragmatism and whimsy. Lady Bird doggedly indulges one artistic pursuit after another while her mother does the precarious high-wire act of balancing the needs of an entire family. Ronan and Metcalf are incredible together, the chemistry is electric and complicated and feels so real you’ll intermittently want to send your mother a fruit bouquet of thanks, and a nasty hate letter condemning her every decision. Or was that just me?

But the real kicker is that Lady Bird is not just a mother-daughter movie. Lady Bird’s life is full of characters and it’s amazing how fully realized they all are. We spend time with her father, her brother, her best friend, and several love interests, and Gerwig’s fabulous writing doesn’t lose sight of a single one of them. And her cast – her cast! Have I said yet that Saoirse Ronan is a vision and she brings so much to the role and this is truly the best I’ve ever seen her? Fun fact: she and Greta first met at TIFF two years ago, and Gerwig couldn’t imagine the role going to anyone else. And even though the writing is so, so good, and the character is absolute perfection on the page, Ronan just makes it even better. Even wonderfuller.

And Metcalf. This is such a great role and she really makes it her own: loving, frustrated, conflicted, supportive, scathing. Goddamn. She plays opposite Tracy Letts, who plays her husband and Lady Bird’s dad. He’s the good cop parent but not without his own challenges – believe me, the script does not neglect him. Lois Smith, Timothee Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges all help bring Lady Bird’s world into bold, bright, living colour while also contributing a little of their own. I’m telling you, this has got to be a contender for best script. The layers are many and I have never wanted to peel anything faster in my life! For my money, though, the lovely, luminous Beanie Feldstein has got to be the breakout star here. She plays Lady Bird’s BFF Julie. Don’t mistake her for a second banana. She may have shades of wallflower but she never gives you a second to discount her.

Lady Bird is absolutely one to watch, so do.

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent lives up to its name: a team of over 100 artists hand-painted each and every frame in this beautiful animated film. What better way to pay tribute to one of the most iconic artists the world has ever known?

The film takes place a year after Van Gogh shot himself and died of the wounds. In life, Van Gogh had painted a portrait of his post master. After his death, a letter of his, perhaps the last he’d ever MV5BNzFhNTMyYTYtYjBkNC00MTIwLWJhMDktZGI0NWZiNWIxYjYzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg4MjE2MzU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1383,1000_AL_written, was returned, so the post master sends his son to deliver it. The post master is fully aware of the special relationship between Vincent and his brother, Theo, and is adamant the letter be placed in his hands, or in the hands of the doctor who cared for him in the last months of his life.

The young man’s special delivery unearths the events that led up to Vincent’s death. His suicide seems to have caught most who knew him off guard – he’d seemed particularly well right before it happened. The story unfolds in beautiful images done in Vincent’s own familiar, fanciful style – over 65 000 oil paintings were made for the film over seven years. That’s quite an act of love, and the first of its kind.

The movie is augmented with excellent voice work by Saoirse Ronan, Douglas Booth, Aidan Turner, Chris O’Dowd and more. The neat thing is the artists have incorporated their likenesses into the film without losing the authenticity of the characters who peppered Van Gogh’s life. The actors actually were filmed playing their parts, and all of this informed the artistic process. This is a really lovely film that treats its subject reverently, with the same sensitivity embodied by the man himself. There was so much more to him than what history remembers, and this movie restores some of what’s owed to his legacy.

 

Brooklyn

At last year’s Oscar ceremony, I was the only one who could reliably pronounce David Oyelowo’s name. A couple of years ago, Matt had to be called upon to serve up Barkhad Abdi’s mouthful. This year it’ll be my turn again because I’m the only one who can say Saoirse Ronan’s name (it sounds like Sir-sha; Ryan Gosling’s hint: it rhymes with “inertia”) and believe me, you WILL need to say her name come Oscar time.

Saoirse Ronan is perfectly cast in this movie and a nomination feels like Brooklyn_3a lock. She brings quiet strength and touching vulnerability to her role as a young Irish woman who sets sail to America all by her lonesome. She makes a new home for herself in Brooklyn but is called back to Ireland where she’ll have to make a choice to embrace the brave new world, or to seek comfort in more familiar opportunities.

I read the book years ago, and reread it recently to remember how very much I liked it. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking meditation on the immigrant story. The movie is a little more focused on the love story aspect, but I can forgive it that because it’s restrained and mature. 0009e215-630Nearly every aspect of this period piece comes out simply but spectacularly. The acting is lovely (her co-stars, by the way, do live up to her performance: Emory Cohen is up to the task, Domhnall Gleeson is exactly right, and what a year he’s had, by the way – this, plus Star Wars, plus Ex Machina, plus The Revenant, the dude’s on fire; I only wish we had seen more of Jim Broadbent as Father Flood) the cinematography is lush, the script is trimmed of excess fat, John Crowley’s direction is generous, the aesthetic is consistent and thoughtful, and Ronan is luminous.

MTM0MDkzNTM1MjYyNTc5MTY2I’m wondering, though, if it’s maybe a little too perfect. Because when the credits rolled, my eyes were dry. And this should be a deeply affecting movie. My little heart-strings were pulled extra taut reading the book, so why has the movie left me so unmoved? I can’t honestly fault a single thing in Brooklyn. It’s a perfectly crafted movie, but for me, there was just no emotional connection.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Full disclosure: I am Wes Anderson’s twin sister, and thus, incapable of impartial movie reviews.

Fuller disclosure: That was a bold lie. I’m just an uber-fan, but upon reflection I don’t want to accuse myself of impartiality. Yes, I love his movies fervently, I wish to live in them, but my esteem is earned. Wes Anderson never takes a night off. He earns it every time.

I was going to watch something new, and maybe I was going to like it, but this little delicacy presented itself as an alternative, and therefore it was the only alternative.

budapestWes Anderson introduces us to Gustave H, a legendary and well-perfumed concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the humble lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft (and recovery) of an invaluable painting and the battle over a will and a vast family fortune.

Immediately Anderson’s aesthetic draws you into this world, the colour palette is sumptuous and alive, and it’s like stepping into someone’s well-appointed dream. As always, the details are meticulously executed: the hotel’s shabbiness, the gritty grout, the choice of fonts, the embroidery, the mustaches, both real and drawn-on, the crest worn by Edward Norton and his army men of a little fox head greatly resembling a certain Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The movie is shot with three different aspect rations to help the audience differentiate between the time periods. The adventure is rapid-fire and the dialogue is virtually spat out.  In fact, the rapid gunfire of dialogue is a problem when viewing the movie in a theatre: the laughs are so close together it’s sometimes hard to hear whatever comes next.

The characteres are vividly drawn and always so much fun to get to know – in this case, Ralph Main Quad_AW_[26611] Grand BudapestFiennes plays a character playing a character who makes pretension feel absolutely charming. Tilda Swinton makes a grand dame indeed in her voluminous old age spots, old lady lipstick, and ridiculously piled hair. There are actually so many stars jam-packed into this movie that I’ll never be able to name-check them all. The enjoyable thing is that these cameos rarely (if ever) feel forced, instead it’s intoxicating and energizing.

It’s a caper-y type film and the plot covers a lot more ground than most of Wes Anderson’s films. But the crime is nestled within a sumptuous frame work and the whole film eats like one of Mendl’s delicious little cakes that are turned our so perfectly that Saoirise Ronan, who plays Agatha, said that making those little pastries convincingly was by far the hardest stunt she’s performed in any movie.

I’d like to say that this is possibly Wes Anderson’s best movie to date, but I feel that such an assertion would be a betray of sorts, like choosing my favourite among my dogs (which reminds me – great little Anderson in-joke moment: after killing a dog in nearly every other movie, Anderson finally sticks it to a cat in a manner so abrupt and cruel it can’t help but get a big, suprised laugh). It’s hard to find a movie that’s this entertaining, this varied and layered, and even if you watch it as a George Clooney edition of Where’s Waldo, you can’t go wrong.

 

Stay tuned for more Wes Anderson reviews – I won’t be able to resist.