Venom depicts a healthier relationship than A Star Is Born

We love a love story. *Correction, we love a tragic love story. And this weekend, we were lucky to get two. In one, aging alt-country-rock superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and budding siren-songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) are star crossing lovers. We watch them come together in a blaze of passion and relevance before one crashes back to Earth under the irrevocable gravitational pull of addiction. Then, we cry.   

The other tale of note here involves the stars in a more literal sense, though I believe it’s a more reasoned and healthy take on romantic partnerships. In Venom, the titular space parasite infects disgraced investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). The pair go on to eat a few people and save Earth from an alien invasion. Venom is a parasite who becomes a partner, who crosses space and time–and yes, the stars–to find a home inside Eddie Brock. Ultimately, they decide to only eat bad people. See–compromise–that’s at the heart of love.

We’re going to be talking about A Star Is Born for a little while. It’ll be a featured player at every major award show. So it’s important to get one thing straight. A Star Is Born is a cautionary tale. This isn’t #relationshipgoals.

Because here’s the cake–or as Venom would put it, the “eyes, lungs, pancreas. So many snacks, so little time.” Eddie Brock and Venom have a healthier relationship than Jack and Ally.


A Star Is Born is a musical. We know this because it seems to take place in New Jersey, Arizona, LA, Nashville, and New York all at once and a musical act like The Drive-by-Truckers is a huge superstars that sells out ten thousand seat pavilions and headlines festivals.

Venom is a comic book movie. We know this because it has a mid-credits scene that made me Google “what the heck is a Carnage.”

But both movies set out to explore a Difficult Man with a habit of self-sabotage. Both men have a disease. Jack is an alcoholic and a drug addict. Eddie has an actual parasite, err a Symbiote. (Venom hates the word “parasite.”) But even before Venom and Eddie meet-cute in the Life Foundation labs, Eddie’s already wrecked his life up.

Eddie Brock had it pretty good. He was engaged to Michelle Williams and they had the means to live in metro San Francisco–Zillow at your own risk. He had The Brock Report–think Vice meets Last Week Tonight. The film’s gears start clicking when Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed)–think Elon Musk’s evil twin–needed a PR shine, he called Brock’s network for a 60 Minutes-type “how awesome am I?”

Eddie’s instructions are pretty clear–softballs. But Eddie also has a choice. He could do what Drake, his network, and his fiance want. He could lob softballs like he has money on the other team. Or he could do his job–which he ultimately does.

The first thing we see Jackson Maine do in A Star Is Born is throwback a handful of pills with a drink. More pressing, Jackson Maine has degenerative hearing loss. And he refuses to wear ear plugs. (His case is a bit clearer.)

These are movies about people trying to live in the world, with varying levels of success. These are movies about people with crippling insecurities and voices in their head, whose vocation covers as a job. Eddie and Jackson have something to say about the world they’re living in. And there’s a price even steeper than the San Francisco housing market.


When Jackson Maine stumbles into a drag bar (his limo was out of booze), he maybe finds a way out. He meets Ally. He tells her to call him Jack. She sings him her song. He brings her up onto the stage at his next gig to sing it.

We should note that early on in their relationship, Ally tells her dad (Andrew Dice Clay) that Jackson’s a drunk. Her father presses that this could be her chance to breakthrough. Ally’s not an idiot.

But Jack gives Ally the platform and push she needs to kick start her career. So yeah, we should note that the power dynamics in this relationship are a little off.

And as soon as Ally’s career starts to take off, and the power dynamic shift, Jack is dependent on Ally. And he does not handle it well. Jack dishes explicit emotional abuse based on power and control. A Star Is Born frames Ally’s commercial success through Jack’s eyes. We see her lip-synced performance of the butt song “Why Did You Do That?” from his vantage in the audience. The horror of … “she’s sold out” flash across his eyes.

Next thing you know, Jack is drinking his mornings away again. He confronts Ally while she’s taking a bath. A fight ensues. She mocks his drinking. He reminds her he’ll always be honest with her and then calls her ugly. He makes her feel like she’s selling out because pop music is apparently inauthentic.

My guy Venom, I must admit, is occasionally guilty of physical abuse–in that he’s slowly eating Eddie’s organs from the inside and threatens to gobble up his liver if they don’t find some tasty criminals to eat. But no one’s perfect!


Overwhelmed by his own pathos, Jack ends up sleeping on the street one night, just like his compatriot Eddie Brock. Dave Chappelle’s character in Venom–just kidding it’s A Star Is Born but how awesome would that be–finds Jack and dishes out his vision of domestic bliss.

“I don’t know … you know it’s like … I don’t know, it’s like you float out … you float out to sea and then one day you find a port. Say I’m gonna stay here for a few days. Few days becomes a few years. And then you forgot where you were going in the first place. And then you realize, you don’t really give a shit where you was going, because you like where you’re at.”

But Ally isn’t a way out. She’s a lighthouse–not a port. And no one can solve Jackson’s problems for him. And as evocative as A Star Is Born Is, at its center is a toxic relationship.


Is there anything in Venom as awesome as Lady Gaga’s performance? No, though Riz Ahmed is really, really good. Will Venom make you cry? Probably not.

A Star Is Born believes that to have something to say, you have to be damaged. You have to have some demons. Venom is a literal space demon who likes to snack on organs. But ultimately, Venom decides to betray his fellow-Symbiotes and help Eddie defend Earth. Eddie asks the pertinent question (it’s his job after all). Uhh, why are you doing this?

Venom’s response is quite touching. He explains how he’s his world’s version of Eddie–a loser. And that he kinda likes it here. And, well, he likes Eddie and that they’re a good team. He’s had a lot of hosts before but none who fit quite like Eddie. Venom, against all odds, has found his port.

Let’s Catch Up

So, I still see a lot of movies. As you can probably tell, I haven’t been writing about any of them. A lot of reasons for that. The Olympics were on. I moved. Went home for a week. I got a new laptop in November and just haven’t really clicked with it. I’ve been playing too many video games. I’ve thought about turning this into a Cardinals blog. I’ve been lazy.

But, I find myself here with an open Sunday and a out-of-the-blue-but-in-its-own-way-totally-in-season-with-our-maddening-climate cold front here in Boston, and so I’m gonna catch up. Still hoping to write something on New Girl and The Americans as they wind down. And something on The Expanse. Had to leave you with a few teasers for stuff I’m totally gonna get around to writing.

Also, shouts to MoviePass for letting me see the majority of these these movies for *free. Please don’t sell my data.


Black Panther

I actually have notes for this one! By now, you’ve probably heard of Black Panther. It’s the 34th biggest movie ever and features the first black superhero (since Blade!) to headline his/her own movie. It’s also awesome.

Ryan Coogler’s entry into the MCU could not have gone better. Black Panther has all the fun stuff. It’s high-key impossible to look at Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) and breathe at the same time. I am ever mesmerized when a watch or necklace or ring (or whatever object is most convenient for you man!) SUITS SOMEONE UP. It’s low-key impossible to watch Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri!) do anything in this movie and not smile. Black Panther has as much fun as every other Marvel movie.

It’s also not perfect. Michael B. Jordan isn’t performing on the same astral plane as anyone else in this movie. Disney wants you to have fun but still want to sell you a Lexus while they’re at it.

Thinking on a wider scale, I like Marvel because Marvel is constantly interrogating what a superhero story can do. Iron Man came out on the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Fox’s first X-Men series a decade ago. Back then, creators had to take superheroes seriously, or no one would. And then Robert Downey Jr. strutted in, you know, definitely the guy at that time everyone thought would become the biggest superhero star on the planet for the next decade.

Marvel’s pitch, from Downey’s performance to Joss Whedon’s rapid wise-cracks, was that superhero movies should be fun. Taiko Waihit’s Thor: Ragnarok was probably the flowering of that this past summer–delightful, improvised anarchy.

So, enter Ryan Coogler and Black Panther. And Coogler doesn’t just wanna make a movie that’s cool, he wants to interrogate what it means for Wakanda to exist on whatever Earth the MCU occurs in. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has a valid critique in Black Panther–there’s billions of people who look like Wakandans getting crushed by institutions around the world. And Wakanda, with all its technology and power, has stood by in isolation.

T’Challa has his own valid reckoning, with his people’s relationship to outside world. What responsibility does Wakanda’s isolationist agenda have as an entire people (Africans) around Wakanda were enslaved? T’Challa comes face to face with his people’s history (literally!)–and the failures of all the kings before him–and T’Challa must find a way forward.  

Black Panther is awesome and fun and it’s not about Infinity Rocks. Black Panther is awesome and fun and asks real questions about power, responsibility, and prejudice, and if we’re gonna make another eighteen of these movies, they should be like this. 


In Alex Garland’s newest sci fi beard scratcher, biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) heads into The Shimmer with an all-female expedition team. Lena’s looking for her husband Kane. It’s a suicide mission. (Also, Gina Rodrigex is her own force in this movie).

So they go into The Shimmer, and things get real weird. There’s a very scary bear. There’s worms crawling in people’s skin. And then, they make it to the lighthouse and Garland is like “lol, hold my beer.”

I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in theaters for the first time this year, though last year’s Arrival might be the best parallel for what Annihilation is trying to do. These are movies that recalibrate your brain, that say, “no, don’t think about life that way, that’s boring. Try this.”

I’m still not sure if Annihilation is good or not. But for four days, Annihilation is all I thought about.

Game Night

We talk about the “rom com” being dead right? Boy meets girl, sparks fly, one of them makes a bet that they can get a guy or girl to fall in them in love with them in 10 days or they just become friends or something. Jokes! Shenanigans! Playin hoops with boy, talking about chicks! Friends offer absurd and sometimes insightful advice. Soaring music, dramatic set piece, ect.

We haven’t seen that kind of movie in a while. Since {remember when Justin Timberlake was trying to be a movie star}. We pivoted to “the rom com isn’t dead, it’s just on TV,” where the messy, “modern” courtships of You’re the Worst and Love, among others, have chugged along.

Counterpoint: Game Night is a great rom com. It starts with a bar trivia meet cute but then fast forwards to fun little chat with a fertility specialist. Rachel McAdams, rom com darling of the mid 2000s, has never been better and Narcos’ Jason Bateman (that’s what he’s known for right?) is the most dependable comedic performer working the past decade. Basically, it seems like marriage is super fun.


On July 18th, 1969, Massachusetts Senator and the last of Joe Kennedy Sr.’s four sons, Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one lane bridge and into a tidal channel. Teddy swam free of the accident, but Mary Jo Kopechne, his lone passenger and brother Robert’s former campaign aide, remain trapped in the vehicle and would suffocate sometime in the ten hours. Ted Kennedy would report the incident at 10 AM and release a statement that morning. That’s pretty much all we know for sure about the Chappaquiddick incident.

John Curran’s Chappaquick is about the truth and bullshit. Ted Kennedy, played by a wodnerful Jason Clarke, is a man drowning in bullshit trying to swim his way to the truth. Or maybe it’s vice versa. I’m not sure. I can’t remember a movie this precise yet so moody since Michael Clayton. That’s the highest compliment!

Isle of Dogs

I won’t hold against you if you fall asleep halfway through.


Blockers is the most fun I’ve had going to the movies all year. Ping me if you’re thinking of seeing it, I’ll go with you, even if we’re not, like, great friends. It’ll be great. I’m fun.

A Quiet Place

There’s something really safe about John Krasinski’s face. In A Quiet Place, Jim is “Fallout” America’s Super Dad–growin’ corn, catchin’ fish, making hearing aids, takin’ notes on the same demagorgon-creates we now have to fight across all content (except this time, they have super-good hearing!). And, as Jim notes in his man cave, they’re “blind.”

Also, Jim–just a note!–maybe stop having kids! I know you’re Super Dad and I know you’re wife is Emily Blunt, but still, maybe not the best time to bring kids into the world!

Mild concerns aside, there’s a reason IT, Get Out, and A Quiet Place are three of my favorite movie going experiences of the past few years. The way you and 50 strangers can wince and laugh in harmony is still one of the best reasons to go to the movies.

2017 films, ranked

I saw more movies this year than I ever have before, which has made ranking them more of a labor and resulted in this belated “product.” I’ve still missed a lot. And I’ll get to them all in the next few months.

The movies are like church. It’s a chance sit in a dark place, turn off your phone, and not talk to anyone. Painting broadly, it’s a chance to escape, though that’s not really the best allusion. This year, I escaped to dreams and nightmares, history and fantasy, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and imagined futures of hope and despair. In a lot of ways, I go to the movies to get out of my own head–to not worry about … Do I read enough? Do I have enough friends? Do I have enough food for the weekend?Movies are a chance to live in someone else’s head for a few hours, and when it really works, they end up sticking in your end for a few days, maybe weeks, and in rare cases, you never quite lose them. Movies are like friends. I made a lot of friends this year.

So here’s a ranking, but first, here’s what I missed this year (and will see soon!).

mother!, Good Time, Florida Project, Baby Driver, Ingrid Goes West, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Beguiled, A Ghost Story, and really lot, lots more.

32. Baywatch

31. Justice League

Steppenwolf was the worst idea of 2017. Making people see Baywatch with me probably means I’m a bad person and the Fun Police probably have a warrant out for my arrest. 


30. Murder on the Orient Express

29. Table 19

28. War Machine

27. Their Finest

26. Incredible Jessica James

These movies are like popcorn. They’re not inherently bad, but you’ll still be hungry after, and you’ll forget that you ever ate/saw em.


25. Power Rangers

24. Lego Batman

Like, they’re not bad. Power Rangers is definitely not bad. (I’ve seen this movie three times!) RJ Cyler (blue!) and Naomi Scott (pink!) are really good. (I’m here for the Angel Grove extended universe). The first joke in Power Rangers is about a guy who thinks he’s milked a cow, but it wasn’t a female cow. (This isn’t your older brother’s Power Rangers!)


23. Landline

22. Spider-Man: Homecoming

It seems like every summer, there’s an indie film with B-level material but A-level performances. Really, there’s like twelve of these movies every summer. Landline is just the one I happened to catch. From Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child), Landline is a middle class, Manhattan family drama circa 1995. Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn are great as sisters. Edie Falco and John Turturro are better in a compromised marriage. Robespierre crafts a film where it’s impossible to root against anyone and therefore, impossible to root for anyone. It’s complicated! 

On the other end here, you know who you’re rooting for in Marvel’s incarnation of the teenaged webslinger. Rooting for Tom Holland comes as naturally as Luke against The Empire, Buffalo Bills against the Patriots. Holland oozes charm. Much was made–in that Marvel way–that this is a “superhero meets John Hughes” type movie. Like most of Marvel’s claims of that sort, Spider-Man: Homecoming is mostly a Marvel movie. But it’s best when it’s a Spider-Man story–when it draws out that tension between Peter Parker and Spider-Man, when it’s asking questions like … can Peter Parker be an adjusted, functioning teenager/member of society while also being Spider-Man (and you know, saving society).  

I’m thinking of the scene when Peter goes to pick up Liz for the dance, and her dad ends up being Michael Keaton/The Vulture. It’s this wonderful tangle of teenage and superhero tropes. Your date’s dad always feels like a supervillain when you’re in high school. And so Peter has to choose between this normal American life where he gets to go to dances and doesn’t have to {WHAM! BAM!} his girlfriend’s dad in jaw versus life as Spider-Man living with “responsibility.” It’s why Spider-Man is awesome.

In Atomic Blonde, Style gives Plot and Character the ol’ karate chop.

21. Atomic Blonde

20. Band Aid

Written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl!), Band Aid is about a couple (Lister-Jones and Adam Pally) who fight a lot, so they start a band. The sing about arguing and arguing about doing the dishes. Lister-Jones should definitely make more movies. Band Aid is pleasant and stirring enough, though it’s Fred Armisen as their neighbor/drummer also battling a sex addiction that gives this film some sizzle.

I couldn’t then and can’t now understand the plot of Atomic Blonde. But I guess it’s not about plot or story or character. This is about Charlize Theron beating dudes up in a Cold War haze. And boy, does she.


19. Darkest Hour

18. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I read the first-quarter-of-the-second-volume of The Last Lion this summer. So I have a soft spot for accurate portrayals of Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour (much like England in the film) rests on Gary Oldman’s shoulders. And he’s great!

Stallone, though, is bad. GG2 is good. Everybody loves tunes. Pratt is fine. Baby Groot is great, though not as good as Gary Oldman.


17. The Meyerowitz Stories

16. The Lost City of Z

On the one hand, “these are the movies we don’t make anymore” or so we say. What we really mean, once we shave off the alarmist slant to that take is that–at glance, these are the kinds of movies superhero/Big IP properties have elbowed out of the multiplex. And so these two films that masterfully ramp up emotional stakes without compromising on entertainment have “generously” got picked up by the Big Streamers. In this case, it’s Netflix picking up Noah Baumbach’s hilarious and heartbreaking family dramedy exploring fatherhood but from the perspective of two sons. They call that “sonhood” but it’s quite awkward to type and say.   

Amazon Studios backed James Gray’s literal exploration of the jungle, a true-life tale of early 20th century British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who three times dove into the Amazon looking for a lost city. You’ll want to dip out after the first 90 minutes, but the last 15 more than makes up for the final 45. 

They still make these kinds of films. I just wish I could’ve seen them in the theater.


15. It

14. Big Sick

Both these films are about nightmares. One’s about an evil clown. If you don’t like clowns, you won’t like It. In the other film, a boy meets a girl. They kind of fall in love. Wooh! She finds his box of Pakistani women. Not a good look! She leaves. Time passes. He lies to a doctor so they can put her into a medically induced coma. Yikes! Get a lawyer! He hangs out with his ex-girlfirneds parents in the waiting room. I still think they have a case in court, which would be a waking nightmare for Kumail.

Gal freaking Gadot guys.

13. Thor: Ragnarok

12. Logan

11. Wonder-Woman

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve bunched the best of Hero-IP here. Thor is a delightful space odyssey and one of the funniest movies of the year. Logan felt brutal and cathartic in ways superhero films have never been. Wonder Woman, though, is the best case to date why superheroes are still relevant. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi is like a New Testament to our current pop cultural religion. Taking something old and making it new is not an easy task (ie: iOS updates). All these films did it, but it’s hardest to do in a galaxy far, far away.

Denis Villeneuve’s film runs nearly three hours and it’s actually not long enough.

9. John Wick: Chapter 2

8. Blade Runner 2049

John Wick 2 isn’t as lean as the original holy text, but it’s still amazing. Whatever the heck Jared Leto is doing in Blade Runner 2049 holds it back. But like any Gosling movie, it’s got the jackets and Gosling brings out the best in Ford. Their fight as a holographic Elvis struts around the stage is a top five movie moment of the year. But more than its style (and why it’s begrudgingly ahead of John Wick and the Hero-IP) is that Villeneuve (with photography by the god Roger Deakins) made a pop/blockbuster film explicitly centered on what it means to be human. It’s a vision of pop art with equal measure brain and heart. 


7. Wind River

6. Get Out

How to explain Wind River? When Taylor Sheridan’s film goes there, it goes there. No, that’s no good. When Wind River turns the dials from 2 to 11 about halfway through the film, you can’t breathe. You’re sitting there like Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in that comfy recliner, hypnotized as blood splatters on snow.

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

5. Dunkirk

4. Columbus

You can watch these movies with the sound off and be firmly transfixed. Tom Hardy gliding over the beach in Dunkirk then lighting his craft on fire was one of the best sequences in film this year. And I have to thank Dunkirk for reminding me Harry Styles is one of the most important and distinguished artists of our time (and for being 90 minutes).

Like Nolan’s war film, Columbus pleases a part of your brain that loves right angles. It’s working with a different visual language than any other movie released this year. But the structure is quite simple. This is a walk-and-talk movie. The wonderful Haley Lu Richardson (Casey) gives John Cho (Jin) a tour through Columbus, Indiana–the apparent secret architectural mecca of America. Jin’s father (a famous architect) has fallen ill, and Jin’s not sure if he’ll get better. Casey is an bright architectural obsessive with feeling, stuck in this small town by her own choosing. The two walk and talk and you enter a sort of trance, loose track of time, and walk out of the theater in a warm glow.

Brigsby Bear is a legit low-key kickback.

3. Brigsby Bear

2. Lady Bird

These films will make you smile. Both remind you it’s okay–more than okay–to love the things you love, whether that’s Dave Matthews Band and your hometown or a children’s show (the fictional Brigsby Bear) literally no one else has ever seen and your captor/dad made for you.

I wrote about Lady Bird here. I’ve mentioned before in this list it’s impossible to not root for Luke against the Empire and to not root for Tom Holland in all things. Well, it’s impossible to see Lady Bird and not immediately call your mom. 

Kyle Mooney has been a legend (in our hearts) since the toast. Watching Kyle sometimes feels like bone scraping across pavement, in a good way. But in Brigsby Bear, Mooney matches his raw act with an equal measure of sentiment. Brigsby Bear also has the best makeout scene of the year.

1. Logan Lucky

Adam Driver deserves a lot of praise for a lot of the little choices he makes when fleshing out a character. (Slapping his stomach-wound in Force Awakens, for example). But I’ve thought about the way his character (one armed bartender Clyde Logan) says “arm” and “cauliflower” every week since seeing Logan Lucky this summer. Steven Soderbergh’s film is more than Ocean’s Eleven in the North Carolina. Well, maybe it’s really not. But it made me laugh a lot. (It’s also written by Rebecca Blunt, which is a pseudonym and that’s exciting.) 

I think Logan Lucky is a perfect movie. It helps that a heist is the most cinematic thing there is. But Soderberg knows exactly where the jokes are, while treating the Logans and the rest–ostensibly white trash–with empathy. They say things like “I looked it up on the google” and “I know all there is to know about computers. All the Twitters. I know em.” And somehow, you’re not laughing at them. Maybe that’s because it’s Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig saying some of this.

The Logans are the folks responsible for the way 2017 played out. And already in 2018, things don’t feel much different. When someone tweets how big their nuclear button is, that can ruin your week. It’s not rocket science–like who knew you can make a bomb with gummy bears–who the Logans might’ve voted for. So more than just being the best time I had at the movies this year, I think Logan Lucky is doing the most important work films can do–empathy. Empathy for folks who felt like they got left behind and then got duped.

The Last Jedi is good

So, if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi, you should probably stop reading right about now. I would never presume to tell you the odds, but I’m pretty sure I’m about to spoil the film for you.

I understand why some are frustrated by The Last Jedi. I’m still uneasy with how they handled Carrie Fisher’s untimely death, with what was essentially a first act fake out. I was pretty disappointed in Snoke going out like a punk (though he was, in fact, a punk) and that probably tampered some of the thrill of Rey and Kylo, back to back, wrecking Snoke’s guards in the red room. But we let’s Force-push the criticism that “all these jokes don’t belong in Star Wars” down the Sarlacc Pit.

It’s obvious now that Rian Johnson was game to make a sequel but not interested in making a remake. When Luke looks at that legendary Skywalker lightsaber and flips it over the cliff, we can tell this is going to be different sort of Star Wars movie. Ultimately, I think Johnson is trying to do some multi-level accounting for … why this universe exists at all. And it’s not to be an unjust war allegory or a vessel for Abram/Maz’s mystery box. Who’s Rey’s parents? What’s up with Snoke? Can we get some logical explanation for the rise of the First Order. No one, nothing, and Johnson doesn’t really care, and that’s kind of the point. So some people are mad.

I’d like to argue that Johnson’s dilemma as creative dude, though, is the same dilemma that Kylo, Luke, and Rey are dealing with in The Last Jedi. Namely, how do we balance what came before and find our own path for our own time?

Kylo is trying to balance the Force by literally killing anyone and destroying anything from the past. “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to,” he tells Rey in one of their Chatroulette sessions. “That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”

When Kylo smashes his silly Vader mask, his agenda is now to erase it all. But by trying to destroy the past, he’s really just re-enacting it. Every move he makes is essentially one that his grandfather made before. Kill his closest male mentor. Kill the Supreme Leader/Emperor. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy! Johnson and (the incredible) Adam Driver add the “please.” Because this is a confused (all-powerful) emo teenager desperately trying to find his place in the Skywalker legacy. Star Wars is both big and small. The fate of galaxy basically decided by one family’s succeeding mommy and daddy issues.

Luke shrugs it all off. Forget it. Forget the Jedi. Luke’s seen the prequels. He speaks our truth when he lays for Rey the fall of the Jedi Order. At the height of their powers, the Jedi fell for the ol’ “oops this Sith Lord we’ve been wondering about is actually the Chancellor who works down the hall who we let gain dictatorial powers over the galactic senate.” And then the Jedi alienat Anakin Skywalker (their prophesied Force Jesus) and let Darth Sidious and Anakin destroy all the Jedi and galactic democracy. That’s a pretty big L.

So the Jedi failed, then Luke failed Ben Solo. Huh, maybe this Jedi way doesn’t really work after all.

Rey’s our avatar through a lot of this. She’s asking questions and taking names. What’s happening to me? Who are my parents? She’s driven by curiosity and longing to belong more than legacy. What darkness must she overcome to be a Jedi? What’s in her cave? Not her father, not a legacy, but a mirror–Rey to the power of infinity. The hero at the center of our story is a nobody, not a Palpetine or Kenobi or Skywalker descendent. And in making her so, Johnson is beginning to restore the balance in the Star Wars ™ universe. 

Why do we like Star Wars anyway? Well, laser swords are very cool. I want have a plastic one. I also happen to hate Nazis and love a great jacket]. Porgs! Porgs for dinner? No, Chewy no! Also pew pew! Say it with me, “we are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.” Rebellions are built on hope! Hero Story in Space! Benicio! Laura Dern! If I love you and you know it, don’t let me become a decoration.

How about these love triangles!

Finn – Rey – Kylo (you can’t make him put a shirt on!)

Rose – Finn – Rey  

Finn – BB8 – Poe

And look at that … no one is related this time!

For some, Star Wars is a little deeper than that. So how can Johnson balance the originals, prequels, and the ground J.J. Abrams laid with Force Awakens. Abram’s Force Awakens succeeded in moments that felt transformative but are eventually fleeting. The Millenium Falcon hurtling through the clouds. Harrison Ford sighing, “Yeah, I knew Luke.” Rey pressing that lightsaber at Luke. (Abrams’ casting was also perfect).

But like our favorite emo Force prodigy, Abrams found his balance in imitation. Walk the path that’s been walked before. Follow the beat and blow up their big gun. He built his movie on his mystery box of parentage and Big Mysterious Bad. He forgot that while the original Star Wars certainly had its famous reveal, up until that point we thought we knew who Luke’s dad was, until we didn’t. It hit us like a fathier, because we weren’t waiting for. For Abrams, the waiting is the whole game.

And so Rian Johnson grabs the mic. And Luke flips his father’s lightsaber off the cliff. That seems like a hint, no? Kylo will use that same lightsaber to punk Snoke. Kylo-as-Ben and Rey will put an end the its run as the most symbolically important weapon in the universe–because of who’s wielded it. Anakin to Luke to Ben to Rey. Skywalkers all, except for one. 

That lightsaber is basically the symbol of how over three generations, a family squabble has torn AN ENTIRE GALAXY apart. And who’s profited? Johnson shows us. It’s the folks in Casino City–selling guns to the bad guys and the good guys. The implication of “we gotta push these toys!” has stretched this universe beyond the point I think Lucas imagined when he was dreaming up Kurosawa meets Joseph Campbell in space. This is what Kylo is trying to purge. He’s trying to address the same problem as Luke, the corruption of this story by one family and a dumb mystery box, when it was really all about looking up at two moons or some stars and making weird noises when you’re alone in a barn with a broom.  

Yoda has a different solution to the same problem. Pass on what you’ve learned, he tells Luke again. Pass on your failures. Don’t pretend the prequels didn’t exist. Don’t build this story on mysteries and a magical bloodline. “Wars not make one great,” looking at you Poe.

Another Yoda quote came to mind during Luke’s showdown with Kylo.

“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” Yoda tells Luke and pinches his shoulder. Well, that’s exactly what Luke does in the end. The Luke who struts in winking to C3PO and says “See you around kid” is a Force-projection, not too different from a Force ghost. It’s new vs the old. But Kylo can’t touch Luke. He’s pure light. And that doesn’t mean pure good. I think it’s meant as history. You can’t fight the past, Kylo. And for the first time in two years, we don’t really know what’s coming next, which is awesome. 

Lady Bird is great

I saw it first, by the way.

There’s something frustrating about a great movie. A bad movie can be yours. I don’t have to share a film like Top Gun–an incredible, amazing bad movie. And, ultimately, you do end up sharing a film like Top Gun. In one particular case, you end up sharing the greatest worst movie ever with everyone and especially James Franco.

And there are a lot of great movies that weren’t great in their immediate time, something like Logan Lucky. (I’ve anchored my trailer on the Logan Lucky lot and am waiting for you fools to arrive). You can even even discover great films that were great in their time a decade later and they can then be yours. You can watch Michael Clayton three times over a 72 hour span and your roommate may be confused/worried and want to watch Ozark, but you know everything is alright, in fact, it’s great.

Lady Bird is different, because it’s double great. And I saw it first. I saw Lady Bird on October 22nd, at Brattle Theatre for their IFFBoston Fall Focus festival. I knew Greta Gerwig had the stuff weeks before you. While you were caught up fashioning your Reputation takes, I was ankle deep in the Gerwig-inspired DMB (uhh, Dave Matthews Band) resurgence. Before November’s think pieces were even filed, I’ve already though at least 33% of those thoughts, like “man I should really call my mom.” And before the final credits strolled and you thought, “man, I should really call my mom,” I had already started to respond to mom’s texts with a little more pep.

And I’m not done quote yet. Lady Bird isn’t only a great-great film. It’s a great anti-backlash film. Remember Baby Driver? There’s a part of our collective hive cultural brain (way guilty) that holds us back from liking anything too much. Something is good, then it’s great, and then it’s overrated. And then it sucks, then it’s alright, and then it’s underrated. Maybe I should be on Twitter less.

Back to Lady Bird. We’re more like Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) than Danny (Lucas Hedges). Too many of us have thought, “I don’t like money, so I’ve tried to live by barter alone.” Too many of us took one poly sci class and now declare in a sigh to anyone who’ll listen, “hegemony!” because wokeness is a burden and a curse. We all just really wanna be Saoirse Ronan, though.

Lady Bird is a film about, among many other things, letting go of your pretensions. Gerwig could’ve called it Call Me By MY Name, and it would have worked. We might have gotten another Oscars mixup too. In her senior year, one of the lessons Christine McPhearson/Lady Bird learns is to like the things she likes–“Crash into Me” being the hinge that opens well of feeling.

When it comes to talking about movies, pretension is, like, the whole point. Talking about movies is the best pretension pissing test there is.

Oh, you liked Master of None? Ever seen some real Fellini

Oh, you hated Mother!? Don’t touch me you uncultured swine.

Columbus is gorgeous and stirring (it is!).

There’s been no such backlash to Lady Bird. It’s–almost universally–a top five film of the year in all the holy scrolls/lists critics spent their Thanksgivings compiling. That’s not just because it’s really good. It’s also because, part of the experience of Lady Bird is that it strips you–the viewer–of a lot of your pretensions. (Not of all them, surely, I still ward off the devil whenever I see a Young Sheldon promo.)

New York Times critic A.O. Scott (a beacon of virtuous pretension) wrote:

“In tone and structure, after all, this is a teenage comedy. It finds humor in the eternally renewable cycle of senior year: homecoming and prom; math tests and school plays; the agonizing stages of the ‘admissions process.'”

Lady Bird shares some DNA with Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. Both coming-of-age films are heroes (and authors) caught up in the geography and feeling of the place that shaped them. Both play out over a calendar year and are driven by the precocious, yet earnest ambition of Max Fischer and Lady Bird. Then there’s the depiction of general depression of adult existence (Bill Murray and Laurie Metcalf) lurking over their shoulder. These films make a show of stumbling into insights, which is a much more difficult trick than this-is-what-I’ve-learned-here-I’ve-wrapped-it-in-a-bow-for-you narration.

In Lady Bird, we have the pleasure of watching a person become more herself, in a way that feels earned, and that–as much as the football coach taking over the play’s direction and drawing up stage blocking like it’s a desperate hook and ladder play–is a joy.

Lady Bird feels purifying, in some tangible way. I think that’s what it takes–beyond sheer poignancy–that makes a great film feel so great in its time.