Lady Bird

Time to fly

One of writer/director Noah Baumbach’s many smart career moves was to collaborate with actor Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplays for both Frances Ha and Mistress America. She brought an added layer of vitality to his work and, most importantly, an authenticity to films centered around young women.

Poster for the coming-of-age dramedy Lady BirdIn Lady Bird, Gerwig strikes out alone, removing herself from the actual picture and taking on the dual role of writer and director. She’s covering semi-autobiographical ground, telling the story of a confused teenage girl in Sacramento (‘the midwest of California’) in 2002. Christine (Saoirse Ronan), or Lady Bird as she prefers to be called, is drifting through her final year of high school with lofty, perhaps unrealistic, aspirations of where she’ll be heading to college. She frequently clashes with mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) whose real world concerns about money and a sense of order in their home are of little interest. Instead, Lady Bird cares about the opposite sex, her social life, and daydreaming about what the future might hold.

It reads like well-worn territory and when a first-time director picks their own life as inspiration for a debut feature, the results can often seem self-indulgent. But Lady Bird doesn’t exist as a twee indie movie construct, it feels thrillingly real and deeply personal, every single beat ringing true. As shown in her previous work with Baumbach, Gerwig’s an empathetic humanist but she’s also willing to showcase her characters’ more difficult traits. There’s a wonderful tendency for scenes to switch moods within a single line of dialogue, especially those between mother and daughter. Gerwig knows how easily the choice of a particular word can sour an otherwise pleasant situation and as a result the film takes on a believably rocky tone.

As a mini-Gerwig of sorts, Ronan is sensational, delivering arguably her greatest performance since she broke out with Atonement. Like any teenage girl of her age, she’s a mixed bag of emotions, careering between joy, sadness, fear and anger without ever allowing us to see their connections. There’s also a fantastic turn from Metcalf, so consistently underused on screen, who in a just world would be an automatic best supporting actress front-runner for her finely observed character work here. Gerwig has gifted her with a fully drawn role that is often half-drawn in many other coming-of-age tales. She’s nagging not because that’s what moms do; she has her own detailed reasoning for why she pokes and prods.

Lady Bird is a film bursting with warmth, wit and melancholy that manages to seem fresh and unexpected despite the overly stacked nature of the subgenre. Gerwig displays no narcissism as someone sharing a version of her past or an aching desire to be hip as a young filmmaker; instead she relies on genuine, deeply felt emotion to sell her story. It’s an impeccably crafted film.

– Benjamin Lee, The Guardian
 

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