Jacob Richardson | 07/02/2018
Adolescence is often characterised as a bizarre, challenging, and awkward period in our lives. It’s a period full of irrational arguments with friends and family, as young people struggle to find their feet, and as such is often referred to as the ‘dark ages’. Yet, under the beautiful direction of Greta Gerwig (in her directorial debut), this turbulent period in all our lives takes on a new loving, longing shine.
Greta instils her personality into every aspect of the film. It’s not surprising in the least to learn that this is a semi-autobiographical riff on her own small town Sacramento upbringing, because the feel reeks of honesty. It’s only further evidenced by her perfect attention to detail, with everything from costume to music choice feeling unflinchingly honest, and utterly representative of the early 2000s; as if Greta had dug up a time capsule she herself buried way back when.
Christine, or “Lady Bird” (Saorise Ronan) as she likes to refer to herself, is the feisty protagonist. She’s quick to turn from sweet teen to terror, with most of her anger directed towards her mother, an easy target. The story itself is nothing novel; it’s the typical adolescent story of fitting in, falling in love and going to prom, but told with a fresh and new voice, one which permeates our senses and fills us with nostalgia. The beauty of Lady Bird is its uncluttered story; it pauses on moments of feeling, never rushing to the next scene or trivialising our heroines adversities. In this way, Gerwig presents audiences with a unique picture of teen ambivalence and angst, that feels only too real.
As an actor Gerwig brought to her roles her free spirited nature and slightly quirky personality, and here she utilises the very same quirkiness and spirit to deliver a piece that feels more coherent and cohesive than anything she ever acted in. Her personality shines through in the little moments; Lady Bird’s amazing audition for the school play, an awkward conversation with her boyfriend under the stars, or a drunken hospital stay in New York. For such an inexperienced director, the story feels anything but. Gerwig paces it extremely well, and balances the linear plot lines with her own quirky deviations in the ideal blend.
Most important to the story, though, is the relationship between mother (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter. The typical teen high school movie elements are here a somewhat meaningless prop for the actual tale of mother-daughter relationships, and why they are so hard. And it’s here, too, that Gerwig’s script and direction excels. There’s something real, honest and beautiful in the bursts of unconditional love, or excitement, or happiness, that permeate Lady Bird and her mother’s frequently fraught, tense and argumentative relationship.
It’s also here, in this familial drama, that we see the best performances of the film. Ronan has been praised for her performance in Lady Bird, and rightfully so, imitating characteristics of Gerwig herself. Ronan ups the ante, utterly commanding the film and delivering her best performance to date. Metcalf, too, is incredible; bringing a deep well of sorrow behind her stony-faced visage. It’s a performance that all builds to one scene for this put upon character, and upon rewatching you can slowly see Metcalf build up the stress, pain and heartbreak over the course of the film, until it bursts like a dam in an extended shot inside her car.
While its very much Lady Bird’s story, her co-stars including Danny (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) have both cemented themselves as strong actors over the past two years, and here prove that, even in their capacity as co-stars, they do not falter and continue to infuse their characters with the same energy as their more starry roles.
Lady Bird is a beautiful piece of filmmaking; remarkably honest, nostalgic without trying to be so, and immensely immersive. Anchored by two knockout performances, it’s a must see.