Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is about a 17 year old girl (Saoirse Ronan) who has given herself the name Lady Bird. Nearing the end of her time in a Catholic High School, Lady Bird has to contend with college applications, family problems, class snobbery and her first few relationships. Although confident and outspoken she struggles to know what she should be doing and fears that she is not living up to the expectations of others, especially her domineering and stubborn mother (Laurie Metcalf).
Lady Bird is a lovingly observed and beautifully articulated story of adolescence. The formative episodes of Lady Bird’s life are incredibly funny but always relatable. Gerwig’s script finds a good balance between snappy comebacks and teenage awkwardness. The characters all have their own concerns, yet all function to explore Lady Bird’s struggle with identity.
The screenplay is bolstered by powerful performances from Saoirse Ronan who is utterly convincing and charming as the anxious teen, Laurie Metcalf as the neurotic yet kind-hearted mother, Lucas Hedges as a sweet boy who gets overwhelmed, Timothee Chalamet as the self-obsessed hipster, and Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend. The friendship between Lady Bird and Julie (Feldstein) is one of many sources of warmth in the story.
What’s most impressive about the film is that, although it is seeking to demonstrate the difficulties of growing up, it refuses to be cynical. Innocence may be lost, but experience is not treated as something to be feared. The catholic school that Lady Bird attends may be subtly oppressive but is also incredibly supportive. Lois Smith plays one of her teachers and in her few scenes is able to exude a charming maternal attitude towards her. Although Lady Bird may find her teachings stifling and yearn for more, the school is an undeniably nurturing environment that becomes a joy for the audience to spend time in. Sacramento is portrayed similarly as limiting to Lady Bird’s ambitions, but nevertheless with a painful nostalgia.
The film is set in 2002/3 which is an interesting choice of setting. 9/11 still hangs in the air and the digital revolution hasn’t quite fully hit yet. The society of the film is taking its first tentative steps into the new millennium, an appropriately disorientating back drop for Lady Bird’s period of self-discovery.
Sometimes, poignant moments are played for laughs, which is surprisingly effective as the humour is almost always based on awkward moments, and most of the profound moments in the film (as often in life) are awkward. For example Stephen McKinley Henderson gives a wonderfully warm performance as a priest at the school who cares deeply about the school but is also prone to a quiet sadness. This manifests itself at inopportune moments which are undeniably morose and yet also fairly comedic. The film proves very capable of such subtlety.
Lady Bird finds brand new ways to explore the complex feelings of adolescence, and does so in a joyous, funny way. Lady Bird is also a strong candidate for Best Picture in a year where the category could hardly be bettered.
5 / 5