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The Complexity of Authentic - Two Great Film Portrayals by Women

With the Oscars just around the corner, let's hope we see local commercial runs of two films that boast of astounding performances from potential Best Actress nominees. One would be Saoirse Ronan in Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, and Frances McDormand in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Via Festivals, I've had the chance to watch these two, and they're films that both belie the belief that you have to be in a film that is stuffy period or somber serious to get that coveted nomination. While tackling serious issues, these films still manage to be fun and wild.

Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage listening to director Martin McDonagh 
 

Lady Bird is essentially a coming-of-age love poem to Sacramento that is written and directed by Greta Gerwig (otherwise known as Noah Baumbach's real-life muse). As Christine McPherson, Saoirse Ronan stuffs her native Irish accent in the closet, and gives us a stunning take on a High School senior who yearns to be different, artistic, and noticed (hence christening herself Lady Bird), but is poor, disadvantaged, and mediocre in so many school subjects. While the relationships with the boys in school and the loss of virginity are achingly real and hilarious for different reasons, it is the unique relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) that truly makes this film different. 

A love/hate that borders on masochism, there is so much to love in how this authentic bond is portrayed - they'll be bitching and sarcastic one moment, then gush and be loving, and appreciative of each other the very next second, triggered by a dress selection or a random memory. Looking out for her daughter and keeping her aspirations grounded, Marion at times seem like she's driving all the dreaming out of Christine; but we see how this deprecating is also maternal protecting lost in translation. It's how things are just never what they seem that propels this film beyond your standard issue coming-of-age film trope.

Saoirse Ronan with director Greta Gerwig on the set of Lady Bird
 

With Three Billboards, we enter 'McDonagh country' - In Bruges and 7 Psychopaths are part of his filmography. Violent, with shafts of gallows humor and penetrating dialogue, and strong, impressionable characters - we know these to be trademarks of McDonagh's milieu, and here, in a role he specifically created for McDormand is one true winner! McDormand is Mildred Hayes, a small town divorcee who is frustrated over the inability of the local police force to solve the case of her daughter who was raped and killed. When she rents three billboards and places incendiary messages on them, she lights a fire under the town's close knit community.

With layers upon layers, this film stands out with how the main characters are portrayed, the arcs they go through within the film's life. Sam Rockwell as the police officer and Woody Harrelson as the police chief are two fine examples of this texture and depth. It's never black and white with McDonagh, but rewarding shades of grey. The black comedy sets the pace early on, but plot twists and turns transform this into a poignant drama that constantly surprises, perpetually pulling the rug out from under our feet. 

It's often said that there are only three to four unique stories in the world; so it's not what the story is, but how you're telling the story that counts. Coming-of-age is old news, as is Mom seeking Revenge; but watch Lady Bird and Three Billboards to appreciate how storytelling and luminous performances transform these films into little works of Art.