Isabela Martinez’s review published on Letterboxd:
Okay so. I didn't dislike this movie, I liked watching it, but I truly didn't understand it in the slightest.
First of all, it's very all over the place and doesn't do a good job at any of it. It's about her relationship with her mother, no wait it's about the struggles of lower-middle class America, no wait it's about friendship, no wait it's about small towns, no wait it's about identity, no wait-. Like obviously movies can be multilayered and tackle different themes, but nothing here is ever fully fleshed-out or realized. The movie started out setting up all of these interesting dynamics and I was really excited to see where it would take them, and then it just didn't. Or it did, but like, in a way that felt completely half-assed.
This problem is probably best exemplified in how the film is very pointlessly set in 2002/2003, which outside of some blink-and-you'll-miss-it footage of the invasion of Iraq, isn't even noticeable. At first I thought it was gonna go somewhere, like tie into something about changing national attitudes or the political atmosphere or the country feeling like it had to "grow up" in a post-9/11 world, but no. Like that's it. (Yes I understand that this is very slice-of-life and the texture of day to day life is boring as Hell even while we live through extraordinary historical events, but that's not what I watch movies for goddamn it). It just felt like there were so many opportunities for interesting plotpoints or moments or messages that just end up frustrating because of how pointless they are.
When the movie ended my only thought was literally, "What the Hell. That was your ending?". Her realization that she loved Sacremento (a point that was touched on halfheartedly) somehow connecting to her mother, the emotional crux of the movie, and it's her driving through the city for the first time? A moment that the audience wasn't even there for? From a storytelling standpoint it doesn't even make sense. Like she could've said that she realized she appreciated Sacramento when she remembered the prom, or Thanksgiving, or appreciated the heartfelt moments with her mother, or like anything that made the previous 90 minutes seem to lead to something.
Also Lady Bird is a completely unlikeable main character, and not even in a fun antihero way. More in like a, I thought I was gonna relate to her and her complicated relationship with her mother, yet I just ended up completely taking the mother's side because she was such an unbelievably selfish and annoying child. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone whose mother's immediate response to her NYU acceptance was "Well you're not going, you know we can't afford it". That's how obnoxious I found Ms. Lady Bird). I also can't with families where the kids will swear and yell at their parents (or tumble out of a moving vehicle and suffer a $$$ arm fracture) and the parents will just sigh and shrug. I'm well aware there are many families irl with that exact dynamic but. Your experiences are far from universal. I guess mostly I'm frustrated because on the surface you'd think I could relate to Lady Bird on so many aspects, and yet somehow the finished product/character was so unrelatable to me on such fundamental levels.
I'm ranting a lot that makes it seem like I did really dislike this movie, but I had an enjoyable actual viewing experience. I loved a lot of the characters, and some of the better emotional moments, and Laurie Metcalf is (as always) phenomenal. This is also the longest I've ever made a review so I thank it for actually making me put an effort into this stuff.
I guess my final comment is that I've now seen two American Beautys and that's twice as many as anyone needs in a lifetime.