Tuesday 16 June 2020

Coming of age in unprecedented times

Paul Moxham, our resident film critic, editor and cameraman, continues his movie odyssey during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Incidentally, Paul's a fellow PlayStation fan and I'm secretly hoping he'll review The Last of Us Part II, but that's between us, OK?

Guest post by Paul Moxham

I’ve only gone and done it; I’ve watched two previously unseen by me, non-franchise based films in a week. Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig and Booksmart helmed by Olivia Wilde. Between these and mine and Mrs. Moxham’s binge on Normal People, it has been quite the time for coming of age narratives at Moxy Towers.

Coming of age films are one of those genres that will never die. As long as people are growing up they’ll want to see films that reflect and remind them how devastatingly amazing and horribly devastating their formative years were. That strange combination of reminding us of the good and the bad whilst suggesting that everything will make sense once we’re a grown up. I’m still awaiting the arrival of the certificate.

I am a complete and unapologetic sucker for them; which initially seems strange considering my own adolescence felt largely like that feeling you get between tripping over something, and the moment you hit the floor with your head. In slow motion. Although I imagine that’s exactly why I like them so much; crystallised moments of teenage triumph that you always wish you were cool enough to have experienced. I imagine we all feel somewhat the same.

Booksmart is all about that moment of triumph, only not in the way the main characters envision. Amy and Molly have their eyes on the prize, top grades leading to top jobs. This pursuit has led them to eschew all forms of extra-curricular activity, parties etc. Necessary sacrifices surely, until on the eve of graduation they learn their classmates have forgone none of these heady delights and are on course for equally rewarding futures. They have one night to make up for lost time. The tension of ticking as much off the teenage experiences list in just one night, like a thrill-seeking Father Christmas, makes for a fun and lively adventure. The balance between the meaningful, the funny and the weird is a joy. Plus a sense of pathos that is genuinely earned without feeling forced or tacked on is a treasured thing.

Lady Bird also focuses on someone who is certain they have life planned out, if only everyone understood her. Although Lady Bird’s realisation that she doesn’t have all the answers is a less high-concept structure. I imagine enjoyment of the film might depend on how much sympathy you can muster for someone who changes their name to Lady Bird and shouts at their mother. Saoirse Ronan has yet to put a foot wrong (check out Brooklyn as well, so very good), she expertly balances between someone feeling their way towards maturity and all the vulnerability that entails, whilst fooling themselves that they exist in the universe to tell everyone else how much they’re getting it wrong. Witnessing the birth of her understanding does elicit a degree of empathy. I’m just not sure it was quite enough for me to completely forgive everything. Maybe that’s my failing; you don’t have to like a character to empathise with them, just understand where they’re coming from. And on that front Lady Bird puts Lady Bird’s case very well.

I can see why Greta Gerwig’s film was so richly lauded when released. It didn’t quite hold me the way her follow up Little Women did. So that’s a long way round of saying I preferred the characters and humour of Booksmart. Now I think I’ll have a lie down, all this angst is exhausting. I don’t know how I ever did it full time.

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