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Saturday Night Live Season 43, Episode 7: Saoirse Ronan charms a night that gets better as it goes along

INTRO

How’s the Cold Open?

Holy fuck this is bad.

It’s hard to talk week after week about how bored I am by Baldwin’s Trump and I not only appreciated the break but was sure that I would have warmer feelings when he returned.

But even if I did, one of the most obvious and irritating pieces of writing that they’ve come up with in sometime would have dashed all those quickly. I mean, look, Trump Christmas Carol is a premise so blatantly obvious as to be hackwork just do it, much less to do it totally earnestly without any real subversion.

It’s made all the worse by the sketch playing it as standard and woefully obvious recitation of “things Trump has done and said” in order to reach for clapter. That Conway “I got so drunk I told the truth line” or that Clinton “Lock Him Up” has no real comedy basis and no joke to it and within the sketch land like a wet thud, even if McKinnon is doing her best to sell it.

It’s just a broad and clunkily written sketch. It feels like all the worst SNL political tendencies in one sketch, buoyed by a fairly lazy impression. It’s like the sketch someone would write to make fun of the show, nothing hits, overly broad, doesn’t know how to end, and ultimately pointless and reassuring with no comedy.

Who’s Hosting?

Saorise Ronan is one of our finest young actresses, one destined for an Oscar shortly enough and one who I may not have suspected to be so ready for the SNL stage. But the same self-assured confidence of performance that makes her so great on film is what makes her work here. Ronan manages to never feel out of place or nervous and she’s actually acting and selling bits of comedy based on her performance. She’s game and really talented with this and I hope to see more of her doing comedy and more of her on SNL.

What Sketches Are Worth Watching?

“Welcome to Hell”

This is undoubtedly the sketch that’s going to have the most life outside of this episode and for good reason. The Ladies of SNL Music Video has been a mark of quality and a recurring sketch onto itself and this one is a fairly smart handling of the sexual harassment stuff. It’s centering reaction of the women and contrasting the bright bubblegum pop of the song and video to the real horrors described, stacking and building in just the right way and using the production design here so well. It’s a lot of fun and even if it could have used a little more energy, this is another great music video.

“Floribama Shore”

We should maybe be a little concerned about the increasing dropping of “Live” from SNL, but we can get to that later. This is a solid send-up of the mining of “middle-class affecting the lower-class reality show” that MTV found working around Jersey Shore. Great characters and details (Quartney, “Benghazi Truther in the Streets,” damn Aidy Bryant really owned this one) and the inclusion of Chris Redd’s sane person in the middle of the whole thing may be the funniest gag of the whole night (that shot of him packing in the middle of the party). And look at Luke Null getting a moment (more on him later).

“The Race”

Beck and Kyle sketches are this show’s truest and most consistent delight, the talent and the specificity are just so good. This is another example, a short that’s half sports-parody and half-80s pastiche parody that spirals so wacky that telling you out of context would just spoil it. Greta Gerwig cameoing is also real fun, she should host.

“Bachelor Auction”

Chad is one of the most odd recurring characters on this show, no voice and no backstory and no conceit but Davidson playing the dumbest possible version of himself. The joke is that everyone is ridiculously magnetically attracted to him for reasons they aren’t quite sure of themselves. This is the first live version but it absolutely plays right,

“Return Counter”

This is a “Parade of Weirdos” sketch and a fairly effective one. Like the Floribama Shore sketch, it’s just about getting those great little details in, what people think and do. McKinnon is probably the best of these at the end, even if Strong is definitely giving it the most effort in this one and is definitely my favorite by a mile.

“American Girl Store”

Mikey Day is getting good at finding these recurring bits, isn’t he? “Distracting Guy in the News Report” (I’m sure it has an actual name) is always a fun one and even if this one is a little more obvious, Day is playing it well and Ronan is underplaying so nicely.

Huh…

“Aer Lingus”

I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. I honestly laughed really hard for reasons I don’t understand. It’s slightly too surreal to just be “Irish jokes” and it definitely just kind of ends, but there’s such a great oddball quality to this one.

What Didn’t Work?

“Late for Class”

Woof. Let’s talk about this one for a second.

Clearly intended to try to give new castmember Luke Null a chance, it’s a really bold choice. A sketch that’s supposed to give no laughs for two minutes so that it can pull up at the end and turn things around and mine how uncomfortable the beginning of the sketch was.

But it doesn’t work. First, the fact that you’ve already bombed and set the audience against the sketch leads to some mild titters among the crowd when it turns around and a hostile atmosphere for the rest of the performance.

But I also think Luke Null doesn’t play it right. He overacts, hitting it too hard, feeling like he isn’t necessarily threading the needle between funny and uncomfortable. Which is hard, I get it, but it’s still what he’s being asked to do.

I feel bad that he took such a hard challenge, but it’s not a fun look to start him out with. Nothing he can do that Mikey Day or Alex Moffatt or Beck Bennett can’t.

“Saoirse Ronan Monologue”

$20 bucks if the monologue isn’t about her name.

It is? Then I got 20 bucks.

Weekend Update!

Boy, Jost and Che have really turned it around. Or the writers have at least. Che may have been weirdly a little off tonight, but there was plenty of great hits on the continuing sexual harassment scandals (comparing it to the Powerball numbers), Roy Moore (segueing out of the creepy YouTube kids videos), and hitting against the tax bill passed in the wee hours of the night. No all-timers, but a lot of strong hits.

Two correspondents this week.

Mikey Day and Leslie Jones return as the sexually adventurous married couple. It’s threaded and performed well with Day letting the passive-aggressive resentment sink in as Jones bashfulness occasionally gives way to her intense desires. Plus the “Stop Whining, Sandwich Boy” is such a good gag.

McKinnon adds another world leader to her repertoire with British PM (for now) Theresa May. While McKinnon plays her with the same able and nimble performance that she does Clinton, Merkel, Ginsburg, and others. But it doesn’t work with May, personally.

McKinnon’s specialty with these characters is taking straitlaced lady world leaders and creating an interesting and funny character out of them. Ginsburg as an insult comic, Merkel as a nerdy high school girl with a lot of crushes, Clinton as power-mad and ruthlessly competent. In other words, people who aren’t terribly funny becoming funny.

The problem is that Theresa May is a hysterical figure. Not intentionally, no. She’s an Armando Iannucci character, someone who believes they’re the only smart person in the room but proceeds to trip over their dicks all the way down the stairs. The person who called a snap election with a double-digit lead and proceeded to lose all of that and her majority to THE ABSOLUTE BOY/JEREMY FUCKING CORBYN and had to ally with insane Scottish reactionaries to barely cling to power as most of her party is waiting desperately to desert her. The character they’ve put together here is just not as funny or comedically interesting as the real person.

Did You Actually Watch The Musical Guest?

I did not!

I haven’t heard the new album yet and wanted to wait.

MVPs!

Cecily Strong had a strong night, really going for it at a lot of turns, including stealing K-Mart straight from under the feet of every one else. Just a good solid night for a great performer.

Cecily Strong – 2
Kate McKinnon – 1
Aidy Bryant – 1
Heidi Gardner –
1
Kenan Thompson – 1
Chris Redd – 1

Final Thoughts!

A nice week! Saoirse Ronan is a great host anchoring a lot of strong performance-based sketches. “Welcome To Hell” is definitely going to have some legs here, but a lot of strong stuff here! A few duds, but nothing bringing down the night too much.

Season Rankings (Shamelessly stolen from SNL Scorecard)

  1. Chance the Rapper
  2. Tiffany Haddish
  3. Saoirse Ronan
  4. Kumail Nanjiani
  5. Gal Gadot
  6. Ryan Gosling
  7. Larry David
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Lady Bird is a beautiful and true movie

The praise for Lady Bird deserves to start with a single detail. At two points during the movie, the song “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band plays as part of integral emotional moments. It’s a bonding for Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), something that gets them into the same emotional space. It’s not just what a perfect period detail that is, but what it says about the ethos of this movie.

Dave Matthews Band is not cool. Steven Hyden talks about this at length a little more (I’m pulling this idea from him but it stood out so much I had to repurpose), but Dave Matthews Band is not the kind of band that associates with having the kind of music taste that people in teen indie movies want to have, usually opting for the references points of what people in their 30s think is cool.

But it’s absolutely the kind of music a character like Lady Bird would be into in that year in that time. Lady Bird chooses to make sure its main character feels real rather than turning her into some icon of cool, to find a reality that grounds her rather than an attempt to impress the aesthetic.

With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig hasn’t necessarily blazed a new path, but simply made an exemplary version of a classic story by sticking to what feels real to her, by sticking to a rawer truth. The result ends up being a supremely confident debut, a warm film with a ton of life and a keen eye for those little human interactions.

Lady Bird follows Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), known as “Lady Bird” the name she gave to herself. It’s a coming of age story in Sacramento in Lady Bird’s senior year, 2002-03. Lady Bird wants nothing more than to get out of Sacramento and to the East, to New York where she thinks culture is, and away from her overbearing mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf).

And that’s your premise. Gerwig wanted a picture in the mold of The 400 Blows or Boyhood and in movies like that, the premise by necessity needs to be thin. You need room to expand and breathe and find all the little tangents that life goes down. Coming-of-age is a genre that functions as collage, all the little bits pulling together into a larger snapshot.

It’s about the people, first and foremost. Lady Bird is really great about capturing the deep flaws within people who are fundamentally good, not ever letting it diminish who they are and still letting what shines about them shine, both through writing and performance.

Saoirse Ronan takes the lead here and continues to prove that she’s one of the best young Hollywood stars. Her Lady Bird performance ranges from deliberately affected, trying to be something she’s not (a side-splitting moment as she tries to slide up on Lucas Hedges’ Danny), to achingly raw, cutting through the problems of teenagedom and learning who you are with a single question. It’s a truly great performance, one I hope gets the proper attention come Awards time.

But just as good is the character on the page she’s given. Lady Bird is the kind of character only the best coming-of-age movies fine. She’s absolutely nuanced, an intelligent and thoughtful girl capable of being cutting and selfish. Navigating the line is difficult, but Lady Bird never strays into her being unlikable or unrealistically good. She’s a person, Gerwig has created someone who feels real and who helps us understand the navigation of a difficult time in life. It’s not that it’s not angst, but it’s the kind of angst people actually feel.

You could easily write similarly about everyone in this movie, there’s a deep bench of extraordinarily well-written characters performed by great actors. Lucas Hedges has an Oscar in his future, let me tell you.

The other one who deserves to be singled out is Laurie Metcalf, playing Lady Bird’s mother Marion. In a way, this is her story too. Marion is coming to grips with her child moving on and with the difficulty of realizing that you have no way to actually grapple with the person your child is becoming. Metcalf does such a wonderful job of letting everything bubble just under the surface, of layering all her lines with the subtext and giving a really knock-out performance.

It’s easiest to talk about all the dramatic elements here, all the realizations and the grappling and the good and bad people. But Lady Bird succeeds because it weaves a warm sense of humor into the whole proceedings. Always good-natured and always ebullient, think the contributions that Greta Gerwig made to the work of Noah Baumbach without his inherent darker cynicism. There’s a lot of great little moments and asides, those that make you smile and those that make you sink into your seat knowing the horrifying embarrassment from your own life that you can map onto the experience.

Look, I’m just saying that I also tried to feel smart by reading a copy of The People’s History of the United States in high school and I didn’t get that shit until last year. So I feel you Kyle (Timothee Chalamet).

And hey, Gerwig’s handling of all this is helped by the fact that Lady Bird is an incredibly finely made picture. A film that is handsomely shot, well-edited, and absolutely drenched in great period detail (given that we can now make movies in periods I lived through).

I also just have to appreciate any movie honest about financial struggle. Not making it a point, not showing “one bad day poverty” as some deep lamentation or some noble endeavor. Just there, just a part of it, just an extra obstacle to pushing through the month. Having grown up that way, I really appreciate the way Lady Bird conveys it.

Lady Bird is the kind of film that makes you excited to see the next one from an artist. A film that’s absolutely lovely, wonderfully true, a film that feels so specific that everyone can relate.

Grade: A