Lena Dunham enjoys ‘unlimited joy’ with ‘Catherine Called Birdy’

“I can’t believe I’m saying something was an unqualified delight, but it really was,” Dunham told IndieWire of the warm response to her latest film.

After years as one of entertainment’s most polarizing figures, Lena Dunham finally takes the win.

Her fourth feature film, the medieval-set teen comedy Catherine Called Birdy, has received almost universal critical acclaim (traditionally not her biggest fans; the film currently sits fairly well at 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, even ahead of her highly regarded ” Tiny Furniture”). She puts all doubts to rest with her latest novel, an adaptation of Karen Cushman’s YA novel, one of Dunham’s favorite childhood reads, originally published in 1994.

Filtered through Dunham’s undeniably comedic voice, Cushman’s novel becomes a cheeky romp through a charmingly anachronistic medieval Britain. Starring Game of Thrones breakout Bella Ramsey as the charismatic lead and Andrew Scott (AKA Hot Priest) as her lopsided father counterpart, Catherine Called Birdy is an absolute delight. And that’s exactly how Dunham feels about the warm reactions her film is receiving.

“I can’t believe I’m saying something was an unqualified delight, but it really was,” Dunham told IndieWire of the film’s reception at last week’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere. “People were incredibly nice. I sat next to my husband during the screening and kept saying, ‘Are people laughing?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, they’re laughing around us.’ But I was distant because it was such a long road to get there with the film.”

Almost ten years to be exact. It was then that Dunham secured the rights to her favorite childhood novel for the first time. The idea came to her during the smashing success of her breakout HBO series Girls, when she was first asked if there was a piece of existing IP she’d like to adapt.

“It was a time when teenage heroines were almost expected to have magical powers or wield a sword. It was either ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Twilight,'” Dunham said. “They thought that was what teenagers wanted. And this heroine has no magical powers. She doesn’t have a sexy romance with an outsider. It’s not like an adult fantasy about what it’s like to be a teenager. It’s just what it means to be a teenager.”

Though the stakes are higher for Birdy than for today’s youth, Dunham’s screenplay deftly turns the humiliations of adolescence (particularly the period) into the tragedy it can feel at times. When her father decides to marry her off for the biggest dowry he can get, she hatches a plan to scare away any suitable suitors. Relying on elaborate disguises, erratic behavior, and even pyrotechnics, Birdy asserts her autonomy with joyful aplomb. Ramsey is a refreshing bundle of energy, as comfortable in mud wrestling as she is in swooning over her young uncle (Joe Alwyn). as playful and precocious as the young heroine should be.

Catherine named Birdy

“Catherine named Birdy”

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“I looked at her face and it was really this love at first sight feeling like, ‘Oh, there they are. There’s the face I was looking for.” And it was almost like the fact that her audition was great was secondary because I could feel how strong, present and clear her gaze was,” Dunham said of the casting process. “I just knew it had to be her. And then she read a scene. It’s always an amazing feeling when an actor improves your writing, improves your writing and surprises you with what you hear in it.”

No stranger to the stresses of the limelight, especially for young women, Dunham naturally feels protective of her young star. She’s heartened to see that #MeToo and Time’s Up appear to have had a noticeable impact. If not directly on the world at large, then on what young people will and will not tolerate.

“I realized very quickly how wise she is and how able she is to stand up for herself and how much that inspires me and in turn makes me want to stand up for her too. … If someone asks her a remotely silly question in a group interview, I body block like it’s nobody’s business,” she said. “I’m also so excited to see someone so young understand what they want from this business and what they won’t accept from this business. It shows me that all the things that have happened in the last five years have changed the self-confidence and power of young women and young people.”

Part of that change is also a rebuke to the way the media treated Dunham when she was the hot new thing ten years ago. Hopefully Dunham is the last successful filmmaker to walk the gauntlet of media criticism like her. For now, it makes her current moment in the sun all the cuter.

“I braced myself to be in that defensive squat,” she said. “It’s amazing to have gotten to a point where I no longer depended on other people’s opinions. [That] Then you can enjoy that even more that people understand and care about what you’ve made, I think, because you realize, “I would have been fine without that.” But it feels really good, because at best, praise means you connect with people. And who doesn’t need a connection right now?”

Catherine Called Birdy opens in theaters on Friday 23 September and begins streaming on Prime Video on Friday 7 October.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/lena-dunham-catherine-called-birdy-interview-1234765309/ Lena Dunham enjoys ‘unlimited joy’ with ‘Catherine Called Birdy’

Lindsay Lowe

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