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Catherine Called Birdy (A Movie Review)


Starring Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Billie Piper, Joe Alwyn, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ralph Ineson, Isis Hainsworth, Lesley Sharp, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Kaye, Archie Renaux, Michael Woolfitt, David Bradley, Mimi Ndiweni, Rita Bernard-Shaw, Jake Middleton Cooke, Adam Aziz, Saskia Chana, Jamie Demetriou, Russell Brand and Lena Dunham.

Screenplay by Lena Dunham.

Directed by Lena Dunham.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Who would have thought that Lena Dunham would follow up her popular, very adult and very modern HBO sitcom Girls with a YA coming-of-age comedy set in the middle ages?

Catherine Called Birdy is charming and exasperating in equal measures. It starts out with our young heroine playing in mud and feces to show her rebellious spirit and never quite cleans up. Birdy (Bella Ramsey) is a 14-year-old feminist in a world where there isn’t even a word for that. She is smart, funny, self-centered, high spirited and a bit of a brat. She is a romantic and a cynic in equal measures.

Most of all, she does not want to follow the traditional path of being sold into a loveless marriage.

Unfortunately, her father (Andrew Scott) is a completely ineffectual drunk who has squandered the family’s fortune, and the dowry he receives for Birdy may be the only way to save their manor. So, he makes sure that a steady flow of suitors is coming for Birdy, no matter how unsuitable they may be. Birdy, as is her wont, tries to sabotage each little visit in her own overtly dramatic ways.

In the meantime, she tries to navigate all the hills and dales of young teenaged life in this ancient shire. If sometimes the film feels like it was filmed at a Renaissance Faire by modern actors doing cosplay rather than an actual medieval village – well, I think that was the point.

Catherine Called Birdy is trying to be joyfully postmodern about this very un-modern situation. It’s putting a young adult comic novel in a time machine and seeing what connections can be made.

Sometimes this works. Sometimes not so much. Catherine Called Birdy is full of romantic asides, rough housing, fart jokes, and monasteries housing male models.

A slightly annoying but sadly common choice is to have this medieval story scored by traditional sounding covers of pop hits of recent decades, including Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You,” The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Supergrass’ “Alright” and Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks.” Every single time it happens it stops the action cold as the audience is trying to figure out how these people from long ago and far away became familiar with pop hits of the 20th and 21st century. However, this has been done so often – A Knight’s Tale, last year’s Amazon take on Cinderella, the Broadway musical Head Over Heels – it hardly even feels novel anymore. It’s just distracting.

Sometimes the movie becomes self-consciously modern in its look at the past to show how woke it is. One of the characters is gay! Two of the characters are married to black women! One of the female characters is forced to marry a nine-year-old boy!

However, enough of this story and enough of the jokes work to make Catherine Called Birdy a relatively harmless way to spend a couple of hours.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: September 23, 2022.


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