Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, Ladybird, is a pleasant coming-of-age, launching-the-children dramedy that explores a fraught mother-daughter relationship. This film garnered 100% positives from critics and 90% from audiences, but I give it 85/100 on the X-ometer because it was a little too sentimental for my taste.
On to better things.
Last night, we caught Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this quirky Coen-esque dark comedy is the best film I've seen this year. Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson turn in stellar performances. McDormand, who is married to Joel Coen, has appeared in eight Coen Brothers films, and though this isn't a Coen film, you could be excused for assuming that it is, making it a perfect vehicle for McDormand, a master of oddball middle-America characters.
McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, an enraged, guilt-ridden woman, who is hellbent on avenging the unsolved rape and murder of her teen daughter. Though it's a comedy, the subject matter is dead serious.
As one ditzy character quoting a bookmark she used in a book she read about polo or polio notes (she can't remember which, but it's the one that's about horses), anger only begets greater anger. This oft-trivialized observation actually represents a profound truth about the role of aggression and vengeance in the human condition. If all evil acts must be avenged, then evil will course metastically through the fabric of human affairs, robbing the human race of any hope of living more peacefully.
Willoughby (Harrelson)—the Ebbing police chief who is afflicted with a fatal cancer—is under siege as Mildred publicly attacks him for failing to solve the sadistic murder of her daughter. In the face of cruel pressures from both the cancer and Mildred's accusations, Willoughby, who is himself no softie, chooses to respond with love rather than punitive hate.
On the other hand, Mildred and Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) exemplify cruelty and vengeance as responses to evil. As we see in their characters, vengeance isn't entirely righteous. It becomes clear that Mildred's bitter mission is at least partly animated by a hidden need expiate her own sense of guilty responsibility for her daughter's death. In her attempts to relieve her own guilt, Mildred attacks others who are innocent of any real wrongdoing, while relying on thin rationalizations to excuse her cruel actions. While the movie never reveals whether Mildred and Dixon will change for the better, there are signs by the end that their moral salvation (and ours) is possible.
There is so much to talk about in this film, but I'll leave you with the X-ometer rating: 100/100