Beautifully made and written with intelligence and insight, Greta Gerwig’s solo debut in the director’s chair is a stunning examination of adolescence and the transition in to adulthood.
Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, or Lady Bird as she’d like people to call her. A senior at a Catholic high school in Sacramento who professes herself to be from “the wrong side of the tracks”, Lady Bird dreams of going to an Ivy League university on the East coast, where, in her own words, “writers live in the woods.” The only stumbling block is that, despite her obvious intelligence, she doesn’t have the academic drive, or attention span, to attain the results necessary, as her loving but often brutally honest mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is at pains to remind her.
As the film progresses, Lady Bird wrestles with many issues that teenagers are often faced with as she seeks to find her place in the world, and Gerwig ensures that both her good and bad decisions feel natural and understandable for someone with such an idiosyncratic sensibility. Indeed, one of Gerwig’s main successes as writer-director is to tell this story and explore themes that are often a fixture of the coming of age genre, but do so in a way that feels fresh, exploring a character that at once is totally believable but also individual and odd in her own particular way.
Ronan and Metcalf are electric on screen together, portraying a complicated mother-daughter relationship with ease and grace, bringing Gerwig’s beautifully written lines to life. Another of Gerwig’s achievements is her ability to write confrontations that are incredibly relatable in the way that they escalate from seemingly nothing to a giant, hurtful argument between two people who care about each other a lot but seem diametrically opposed in a lot of ways. This leads to many beautiful and heartbreaking moments, and their interactions form the backbone for everything in the film.
Gerwig does a great job of humanising everybody, resisting the temptation to turn them in to tropes by making her characters more than they seem, people with not just one personality trait but many more that reveal themselves over time. This makes Lady Bird’s interactions with them all the more compelling as she tries to figure out how each person matches up to her expectations, and discover which relationships she should care about and maintain.
Throughout all the human drama, there is also a thread of humour that extends from the beginning until the end, and Gerwig’s sense of comic timing is such that it blends seamlessly with these character explanations, each joke or wry comment feeling natural and completely relevant. Indeed, the absurdity and awkwardness of some of the situations ring very true and the way they affect Lady Bird is often amusing but also endearing, and watching her learn to understand and realise more about the world is a joy.
For a directorial debut, Lady Bird is an astonishing achievement that works on every level, resonating emotionally and feeling profound and intelligent without ever resorting to glibness while seeking to subvert many a cliché. Ronan gives her best performance yet in the lead role, and both her and Laurie Metcalf are fully deserving of their ample awards nominations, while Gerwig should arguably have appeared on many more lists than she has. One thing is for sure, she has announced herself as a singular talent with a film that is as heartfelt as it is almost painfully insightful.
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