Lady Bird Review
Under normal circumstances a film like Lady Bird would come and go without so much of a flicker on the cinematic landscape, seen by film fans who scour yearly releases looking for hidden gems, and shown on a limited amount of screens around the country before quickly disappearing from sight. Instead, the film has become of the best reviewed films of all time, bagged five Oscar nominations and further amplifies the need for more female voices to be heard in cinema. Not bad for a first full debut by Greta Gerwig and most importantly of all Lady Bird is worthy of the praise being lavished upon it.
You may have heard how Gerwig wrote letters to Justin Timberlake, Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews asking to use their songs in the film. Those endearing fan-style requests are every bit as loving and affectionate as the 90 minute letter she writes to her adolescence, seen through the eyes of Saoirse Ronan's 17-year-old Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson. This semi-autobiographical story takes place back in Sacramento in 2002 at a time when social media wasn't a thing (hallelujah) and CD Walkman's still were (yes, really). Like most teenagers, Lady Bird's mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), is central to her growing pains and it is their relationship that anchors everything else in the film.
Like any parent worth their salt, Marion pours out her anxieties and stress onto her children, while Lady Bird is heading onto the final leg of an adolescence that at times feels like a never ending marathon. There is conflict over whether to choose a local or more reputable college while her father, Larry (Tracey Letts), has recently lost his job which only adds to the pressure in the family home. Lady Bird is from “the wrong side of the tracks” as she tells everyone, embarrassed to invite her richer school friends over to her house for fear of being judged.
Although Gerwig zips through this final year at school the people in this world and the flow of the narrative are never once compromised. This is because aside from the great performances one of the most impressive aspects of the storytelling is how easily Gerwig moves between the relationships in Lady Bird's life to give each one meaning. There is a soulfulness to the writing that makes it easy to understand the perspectives of the characters in her orbit and the non-judgemental approach doesn't take the easy route of pointing fingers and apportioning blame. It's a script smart enough to realise that no-one ever really grows up and no matter how old we’re all prone to moments of childish immaturity.
The casting is a joy and that starts with Saoirse Ronan doing as she has been since bursting onto the big screen a decade ago in Atonement. She fizzles with energy and brings the best out of the comedy in a script which largely avoids gags in favour of letting the humour flow naturally through the dialogue. From fights with her emo brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and the ups and downs of friendship (Beanie Feldstein is adorable as best friend Julie), through to boyfriends and losing her virginity to Timothée Chalamet’s aloof Kyle, the tonal mood changes fluidly without missing a beat.
But the film ends as it begins with the dynamic between Marion and Lady Bird feeling as real as ever. Metcalf deserves the plaudits being thrown her way during award season thanks to the way she delivers lines that will strike a nerve with any parent or child. Even the process of trying to find a prom dress can draw out the uncomfortable truth between mother and daughter. “Of course I love you,” says Marion attempting to ease her daughter’s concern. “Yes, but do you like me?” asks Lady Bird as fast as she can blink. The response isn’t exactly what you’d expect or hope it to be. But it’s the truth. And it hurts. And it’s all part of those growing pains that never do quite fade away.