Lady Bird marks the solo feature directorial debut for actress/writer Greta Gerwig, whose previous foray at the helm was co-directing the (very) small romantic drama Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanberg. Let’s not beat around the bush: this is an impressive piece of work; hilarious, layered, stirring. It’s no wonder the film has been gathering acclaim from every corner since its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, which was followed a week later by another successful screening at the high-profile Toronto International Film Festival. Jump to: Oscar nods.
Somewhat inspired by Gerwig’s own experiences, the film follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a seventeen-year-old girl trying to get through life in 2002 Sacramento. As she deals with boys, friendship, and the fear of not knowing what college she’ll end up in – let alone what career path she wants to follow, it’s the relationship with her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) that remains a constant: two similar, highly emotional, hard-headed personalities that constantly clash, while the love that can only exist between a mother and daughter envelopes it all.
If there’s a word that best describes the film: honest. Gerwig’s screenplay is filled to the rim with emotional sincerity, giving us moments that, even if we have seen some sort of rendition of them in cinema before, feel fresh, insightful and heartfelt. The film sits comfortably in the coming-of-age genre without pandering to the clichés that this type of film can often adhere to. Gerwig addresses familiar beats – the “first time”, applying for college, school prom, etc – but does so with a unique eye, both in terms of her personal point of view and her surprisingly deft direction.
Christine isn’t a character that should be easy to like; her moodiness and questionable choices, not to mention how she treats one of her closest friends, should make her a little harder to side with. Thankfully, Gerwig’s multilayered characterisation makes Christine not only a character that you find yourself warming to, but also one that you understand and completely empathise with. And yet, Gerwig ensures you don’t have to be completely on her side all the way through. As we observe Christine’s interactions with her mother and friends, the character’s layers, the good and the bad, are presented without prejudice. Adolescence: we’ve all been there. The film’s decidedly feminine angle suggests female audience members may find more to connect with, but there was still plenty that took this writer right back… to a time where they told you the sky was the limit, when it felt as though it was constantly falling.
As has become expected, Ronan delivers a pitch-perfect performance, immersing herself into Christine and finding every sentiment, both verbal and internal, that Gerwig’s script calls for. The three-time Oscar-nominated actress (and she’s only 23) matches her filmmaker’s talent for giving it her all when the moments needs, and pulling it all back at just the right moment. Hopefully the Gerwig-Ronan partnership continues with more features.
Metcalf is also on fire here, giving an utterly convincing turn as Christine’s mother, Marion. Like her daughter, Marion is ultra critical and argumentative, and inadvertently hurtful. But she’s also a loving mother, willing to do anything for her daughter and wanting nothing more than the very best for her. Metcalf balances out the character’s two sides beautifully. The supporting cast are all fantastic; Gerwig brings out authentic turns from the likes of Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith and Stephen Henderson.
Lady Bird isn’t a film of grand, operatic moments and ‘look at me’ filmmaking, but it is, nevertheless, an assured piece of filmmaking that will hook you without trying. Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a delight.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★★☆