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Short Cuts: Hot takes on 'Catherine Called Birdy,' 'Emily the Criminal'

Capsule reviews of Lena Dunham's new movie and a thriller starring Aubrey Plaza.

A young woman holds a white bird in her hands and smiles, in the interior of a well-furnished medieval manor.
Bella Ramsey holds her character's namesake in "Catherine Called Birdy."
Contributed / Prime Video / Alex Bailey
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DULUTH — Since joining the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance, I've started to receive some "for your consideration" screeners.

A "screener" is movie business lingo for a copy of a film provided to critics — in this case, to be sure we have an opportunity to see 2022 releases before writing year-end roundups or voting on awards. I appreciate it, since press screenings in this state all take place in Twin Cities movie theaters, making it hard for those of us in greater Minnesota to stay ahead of the curve.

"Catherine Called Birdy," which came out in September, was written and directed by Lena Dunham ("Girls"). It's an adaptation of a 1994 children's novel by Karen Cushman. I read it back in college, when I was studying education, so I was excited to see what Dunham would do with the story about a 13th century girl who very unwillingly enters the marriage market at a young age.

The brisk, spirited film fits firmly into the trend of historical fictions with deliberately anachronistic music, language and style. Although the medieval English is authentic enough that you have to listen closely to figure out what's being communicated, it would be easy for tweens today to relate to the title character, played with panache by Bella Ramsey ("Game of Thrones").

"Emily the Criminal," released in August, came hailed as a dramatic turn by star Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation"). It's a low-key but engaging thriller about a millennial, heavily laden with student debt, who accepts a coworker's invitation to participate in a fraud ring. Writer-director John Patton Ford's 93-minute movie is most engaging in its first half, as we watch Plaza gradually discover a sense of liberation at sticking it to an economic system that seems rigged against her.

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As of publication, "Catherine Called Birdy" is exclusively on Amazon Prime, where it's free with a subscription. "Emily the Criminal" is more widely available for rent or purchase on various streaming services.

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Related Topics: MOVIES
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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