Greta Gerwig makes her solo directing debut with Lady Bird; a funny, sometimes painfully honest but incredibly personal story of a teenage girl coming of age in her senior year of school. Her vision is aided by two sensational performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the mother and daughter at the heart of a tumultuous relationship.
It’s 2002 in Sacramento, California. Here we meet Christine McPherson( Saoirse Ronan), a teenager in her senior year of school. She attends a strict Catholic school, despite the fact her parents are struggling financially. She also goes by the name Lady Bird in an effort to stand out from what she sees as a boring place of no culture or event of note. Her opposition frequently clashes with her hardworking mother Marian( Laurie Metcalf), which results in bust ups throughout the year. Marion is a nurse who works doubles to support the family as her genial husband Larry( Tracy Letts) has been laid off and often tells Lady Bird that she is aspiring for too much. Both are at loggerheads and then fine, followed by more arguing that ebbs and flows. Meanwhile, Lady Bird, who knows she is distinctly average at a lot of things but isn’t short on ambition, has to find her way through the last year of school. which includes taking part in the school play, falling for two different guys in the form of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and sardonic, cool guy Kyle ( Timothée Chalamet), finding trouble with her best friend Julie( Beanie Feldstein) and generally feeling like everyone is somehow against her dreams . At the centre of it all, her relationship with her mother takes twists and turns as they attempt some form of understanding.
While Lady Bird does observe conventions of standard coming of age movies( boys, falling out with friends and rebellion), but there is something in the way that the story is told that makes it feel fresh. The personal undertone that the passionate Gerwig has infused the film with really stands out and captures that awkward time in someone’s life where everything feels like life or death. So while it isn’t an original or full on groundbreaking film, the approach taken and blend of comedy and drama is to be applauded for pulling us in and how it has us laughing one minute and emotional the next. Many scenes illustrate this bit the opening of Lady Bird and her mother going from niceness to bickering in minutes, along with the former throwing herself out of the car so she doesn’t have to listen to disagreement, clearly sums up the kind of film this is. Also, the pink cast Lady Bird wears for most of the film is an apt bit of symbolism that clearly displays our heroine’s desire to be an individual at any cost.
Lady Bird manages to avoid the cloying nature that often saturates a coming of age story to the point of mawkishness and steers clear of being melodramatic. Sure quite a bit happens to the titular character over a year, but it’s shown in such an organic yet warm way that tempers events with seriousness and comedy. I’m a fan of coming of age stories when told with substance and style and Lady Bird owns both of those admirable qualities. There will still be those who will write of Lady Bird as just another teenage comedy drama and not give it a chance. But I think they are really missing out on an often hilarious yet deeply effective evocation of a young girl turning into a woman who wants something out of the world to happen to her. The gold hues of the cinematography, coupled with the use of montage and choice of music, are gorgeously used to create a definite feeling of looking back on memories.
Now on to the acting in this teenage comedy drama and it’s clear to see that it’s one of the best things in Lady Bird’s impressive arsenal. In the lead, the always talented and confident Saoirse Ronan excels stunningly. Those blue peepers and arresting face chart the varying contradictions of Lady Bird as she faces adolescence and how she views it as an existence sent to test her. She’s restless, petulant, dramatic, funny, whacky, caring and acerbic. I’m simply running out of adjectives to describe Ronan here, she is that good at imbuing they part with bite. Ronan makes for a memorably flawed but endearing heroine, even when she’s being unpleasant. It’s the definition of a complete performance that just ticks all the right boxes and Saoirse Ronan owns the role with every fibre of her being. For an actress still so young, I’ve a feeling that she’s becoming one of the finest actresses of her generation and that’s not an exaggeration. Laurie Metcalf superbly supports Ronan with her work portraying a no-nonsense mother who as someone else mentions is as loving as she is frightening. Metcalf supplies the story with a serious undertone but isn’t above humour. Simply stated, she’s remarkable as an opinionated, careworn woman trying to raise a daughter who insists on creating difficulty for her. Ronan and Metcalf are magnetic together; both characters won’t admit it but they do share similarities that they would much rather not. This sets the scene for much drama between them. Beanie Feldstein is an absolute delight as the best friend who is so endearing that you want to give her a hug. The way Feldstein plays her shows that she’s truly alive in her best friend’s company and it’s what gets her through her low self-worth. Tracy Letts is quietly and subtly convincing as the protagonist’s father who is the good cop to his wife’s bad cop. Letts infuses him with a warmth but a big level of sadness as this character is unfortunate but doesn’t make a fuss. He is very moving in his work and his scenes with Saoirse Ronan are a delight. Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet play the two main boys in Lady Bird’s life with energy and awkwardness for the former and scowling but charming rock dude for the latter. I liked both parts from these actors as they had more to them than just the boys the heroine likes, particularly Hedges and his story though Chalamet is no slouch either, far from it in fact.
Hilarious yet deep, stylish but buttressed by story, Lady Bird is a marvellous solo debut for Greta Gerwig that soars owing to its direction, script and two deservedly Oscar nominated performances at the centre of it.