Current Issue #487

Film Review: Lady Bird

Film Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird is a sharply-played semi-coming-of-age drama with much familiarity, yet enough spiky humour to offset most of the clichés, and star Saoirse Ronan who excellently portrays a protagonist who could just about drive you mad — much like all teenagers.

Having proceeded from ‘mumblecore’ indies to almost topline fame, Greta Gerwig (in her first solo writer/director effort) evidently learned a thing or two from filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Reportedly he wanted to direct this and she said no, probably so that she could keep it properly feminine (if not feminist) in tone. It apparently wasn’t to do with her personal devotion to the script due to it being powerfully autobiographical: in fact, she’s stated that while there are similarities between her and Ronan’s character, she was actually far more straitlaced and square. And nicer too, probably.

In 2002 Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Ronan with dyed-red hair) is in her last year of Catholic High School in her loved/hated hometown of Sacramento, and there’s an awful lot going on in her life, none of which she’s making very easy for herself (or anyone else). She clashes with one of the Sisters (Lois Smith), she’s cruel to her would-be bestie Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein) and she gives other schoolmates a tough time for fun, and perhaps much of this acting-out stems from the increasing friction between her and her mum Marion (Laurie Metcalf, best-known as Roseanne’s sister and Sheldon’s mum in The Big Bang Theory).

Her Dad Larry (Tracy Letts), who has troubles of his own, states the damn obvious: “You both have such strong personalities”. It’s certainly true, but it would also help if ‘Lady Bird’ (Marion refuses to use the name) didn’t blame her mum for just about everything, and some of their scenes together are tough to watch if you’ve ever fought long and hard with a parent.

Anyway, Christine joins the drama program and meets nice Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges from Manchester By The Sea), and their path to a goofy romantic relationship is sweetly observed but pretty painful. Later she also hangs out with Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name), an oh-so-cool muso who’s, like, so over everything and thinks everyone’s a conformist.

Christine throwing over BFF Julie for the cool kids is something we’ve seen before, and while you can guess what’ll happen (especially as we build to one of the most nightmarish of American institutions: the Senior Prom), that’s not the end, because Gerwig is also very interested in what happens to our hurting heroine once she’s finally made her decision and starts getting the Hell out of Sacramento.

A movie much concerned with financial standing (which fits with its low budget and occasionally cash-strapped look) and social class, this is strongly-acted throughout but really held together by Ronan, who’s in fact in her early 20s, but it hardly matters. She brings Christine to vivid life and conveys all of the kid’s complexities and contradictions, while also making sure that we see the naïvete and confusion that underlies all of that impossible adolescent angst.

Rated M. Lady Bird is in cinemas now.

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