Dir. Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet.
Greta Gerwig is best know as an indie starlet favoured by American auteur Noah Baumbach, winning acclaim for her role in Frances Ha. Here, she breaks out on her own with her solo directorial debut, after co-directing Nights and Weekends, directing from a script she wrote herself. Whilst Gerwig has claimed that the film is not auto-biographical, there is no doubt that this is an incredibly personal story, and an incredibly personal film. It’s set in Sacramento, the place where Gerwig grew up, and is mainly concerned with the relationships Lady Bird has with both the place, and her Mother.
Lady Bird is a coming of age story centred around Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Roman. A teenage girl living in Sacramento, who is in her final year of high school, trying to figure out what to do with her future and what college to go to. Throughout the year she will have to navigate love, sex, friendships, class, and most importantly her relationship with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. She’s a girl who complains about not living in a place surrounded by culture, although she doesn’t know who Jim Morrison is, and wants to go to an Ivy League school despite not being academic. It’s a film about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, and accepting the things that define her.
Lady Bird is a completely charming film. It’s a film made by some one who obviously has such affection for her characters that you can’t help but share that affection. Gerwig has created a world with such well drawn and vivid characters, that even those you only meet briefly feel like old friends. Everyone in the film feels real, they all have a pulse, and each one is a piece of a puzzle that helps you understand Lady Bird, and that helps Lady Bird understand herself. There is a feeling of warmth, to and from the characters, that seems to radiate from the screen and wrap you in a tight embrace.
It’s a wonderfully constructed film too. Not one scene feels over-indulgent, it never over stays it’s welcome. Every frame is there for a reason, and what beautiful frames they are. Set in 2002, the film has the feel of a memory or a dream. The use of grain, and colour, adding to this sense of time capsule, like looking through old photos and saying this is who I was. It’s a feeling I’ve not had since seeing Boyhood. It’s also smartly edited, a scene where Lady Bird comforts a friend, cutting to her Mother, a nurse talking to a patient about depression. It’s this showing and not telling which makes Lady Bird stand out. Helping us understand why someone who so clearly loves their home town, their mum, their school, and their friends seems so intent in rebelling against it all.
If the characters are well drawn, then the actors colour them in exceptionally. Both Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet shine with their limited screen time, but it’s Saoirse Rowan and Laurie Metcalf who really stand out. Their relationship feeling authentically lived in. You leave with the sense that these are people you’ve known your whole life. They both deserve all the accolades they are receiving. It’s hard to believe that Ronan is still so young, and this proves she’s one of the best leading actresses working today and will be for years to come.
If there are any complaints of the film, it comes from having such high expectations. For a best picture nominee, the story and subject matter are very slight. It reminded me of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. It’s a coming of age story. An incredibly well made, funny, and moving coming of age story, which deals with everyday complexities very well, but still just a coming of age story. Lady Bird says she wants to have actually lived through something. She doesn’t really, but that’s the point. This is only a minor gripe though, and if I didn’t know anything about the film going in, I’m sure it wouldn’t have thought it.
Lady Bird is a warm, funny, and moving cinematic experience. Greta Gerwig has created a world which you want to spend time in, and her troupe of actors have populated that world with such well drawn, interesting characters, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. I can see this being a film that I’ll return to again and again, like seeing an old friend.