Directed by: Lena Dunham
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Written by Taylor Baker
After taking a few years off, Lena Dunham returned to visual storytelling earlier this year with “Sharp Stick” a messy but engaging story of a young girl coming into her sexuality in Hollywood. Making “Catherine Called Birdy” Dunham’s second film of the year, which she adapted from a novel by the same name. In it, Bella Ramsey plays Catherine, a teenage girl who doesn’t want to marry any of the older men her parents bring to her village. She wanders around her castle and grounds using contemporary parlance with some fashionable old-timey words, lusting cheesily after young monks, and playing up just about every teenage girl cliche possible in the setting. Catherine, due to the conceit of the novel, writes in a diary regularly at his brother’s insistence. This diary serves as the lines she uses to narrate the film and thus her headspace to us. A choice that while very effective in literature often removes (as it does here) any chance of the audience taking the consequences of the narrative seriously.
The locations the film is shot in are remarkable for little more than their authenticity in the face of this inauthentic feeling tale. Laurie Rose’s digital cinematography is as it has alway been, serviceable for films that do little more than echo the style, ideas, and actions of others. Teetering uncomfortably between full-fledged comedy and drama, it’s not only hard to take “Catherine Called Birdy” seriously, but it’s also hard to stay engaged. Why would a young woman be so flippantly expository if everything didn’t work out right for her anyway? In a world where “Emma.” an intelligent adaptation with contemporary wrinkles exists; it’s not hard to understand why Amazon Studios wanted to get it on a young-skewing female dramedy. What’s difficult to understand is why this is the project they chose to greenlight. Despite my misgivings with the film and narrative in general it is encouraging to see Dunham rounding out her skillset as a filmmaker by adapting someone else’s work. In the end “Catherine Called Birdy” comes off as little more than a modern-day studio job from a filmmaker trying to reestablish herself half a decade removed from delivering one of the most iconic television series in the last ten years.
“Catherine Called Birdy” Trailer