Circuit Considerations: Nick Houy in ‘Lady Bird’ for Best Film Editing


Oscar ballots were sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or better known as the Academy members, on Friday, Jan. 5.  We’ll be using the next week to remind the voting membership of our favorite films and performance of 2017 that they should consider when filling out their ballots!  If you missed one, then please click on the “Circuit Considerations 2017” tag.  You can also check out the “Best of 2017” column where the Editor cited the year’s best.  Oscar ballots are due on Friday, Jan. 12.

Dying is easy, comedy is hard. This isn’t just true for the acting and picture categories. Independent dramedies and coming of age stories aren’t always thought of when it comes to below the line categories. However, few films are as dependent on editing. Lady Bird succeeds because, in just 93 short minutes, the jokes, the drama, and the humanity flow with every single shot. The way the film is put together, it simultaneously never stops but also never feels rushed or overstuffed. Every moment gets space to breathe but still zips along with ease. Good editing is invisible. The fact that “Lady Bird” doesn’t seem like an obvious contender for editing is only further proof that it absolutely deserves mention. The work of film editor Nick Houy deserves recognition.

Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) rebellious nature strikes an almost immediate cord. Just as Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) finish listening to Grapes of Wrath on a college road trip, Marion begs Lady Bird to sit with the material. As an argument almost immediately ensues Houy lets the audience sit with these two women. As Lady Bird hurls herself from the car, we cut straight into Lady Bird at school with a cast and in the chapel. So much is revealed in one shortcut. Not only that but this instantly hooks and transports the audience.

So much of Lady Bird’s hopes and crushed desires are marked by these quick editing cuts that only highlight the humor in high school life. After a brief, yet cute run-in with Lady Bird’s first crush, Danny (Lucas Hedges), we go directly into a shot of Lady Bird writing his name on her wall. Later in the film, as Lady Bird moves on to resident “cool guy” Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), we see her write his name in the same place, next to a crossed out “Danny”. As Lady Bird leaves her childhood room, she paints over both of these names, leaving the past behind. Capturing these small notes in and of itself gives Lady Bird’s love life a firm and satisfying conclusion.

While the film zips between the different relationships in Lady Bird’s life, it uses the long shot to give other characters their conclusions. (SPOILERS) As Marion drops Lady Bird off at the Sacramento airport, she decides not to walk her to security with Larry (Tracy Letts). Instead of following our protagonist’s tearful goodbye with her Father, the film cuts to Marion. Marion tries to park the car but instead finds herself turning around. In staying on her, we see her choose to reconcile with her daughter. The film goes quickly to her realizing its too late and Lady Bird is past security. The film cuts now to New York, with Lady Bird in her new life. In taking a small detour, the film gives its other major leading lady her arc. This shows how nimble the film’s editing is as it gives us all the resolution we need. (END SPOILERS)

That larger set piece further highlights the strength Houy brings to the rest of the film. In just moments, Houy gives us glimpses into the lives of every supporting player. We drift into Julie’s (Beanie Feldstein) crush on Mr. Bruno (Jake McDorman). Houy splices humorous one-liners from Father Leviatch (Stephen McKinley Henderson) that further reveal his underlying depression. Even an innocuous joke, like a football coach taking over the drama department, earns a quick cut that serves as a warm, funny payoff. The film is chock full of moments to cherish. However, they all get their space to register to the audience and be deeply felt.

There has been a trend of nominating the “smaller dramedy” of the Best Picture race when the film gains a lot of support. We saw this with “The Descendants” in 2011, “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2013. Those films succeeded in using editing to create a specific rhythm and were justly rewarded for it. “Lady Bird” achieves a similar feat, but to a greater degree. It’s a stronger, more nimble film that balances many more stories and breathes life into an entire city, not just one girl. It’s hard to consider a Best Picture frontrunner underrated. However, the film needs to get recognition for the hard work of the crew, film editor Nick Houy in particular.

Do you think “Lady Bird” deserves a nomination for Best Film Editing? Sound off in the comments.