Film Review: Lady Bird
by Angelique Jones
Lady Bird is a charming coming of age comedy-drama capturing the humour, pathos and universality of adolescence
Writer, director and actress Greta Gerwig has been on my radar ever since her quirky role in Noah Baumbach’s indie, Frances Ha, of which she plays the protagonist of the same name and which she co-wrote with her partner, Baumbach. Perhaps this is because Frances, a slightly lost, kooky creative, is in the midst of quarter-century life crisis who finds herself stumbling amongst the starry lights of New York City, searching for stability and her place in the world - and I can relate to that.
But as well as the thematic relevance of this film, unlike some other quirky, low-budget films with an artsy twist (Frances Ha is shot entirely in black and white), this movie bypasses the typical narrative towards its equilibrium. When Frances realises that she must create her own opportunities, and so choreographs a dance show in the film’s penultimate scenes. We don’t see a collage of her kunstlerroman, or her changing into a role that fits in with society’s needs, we just see her doing something, something that she is proud of.
"Lady Bird is a collage of irresistible moments."
Gerwig is a woman of integrity, style, and alternativity that eschews the “edgy” undertones that are often associated with the indie generation of filmmakers, and the fact that she is of the female variety.
Just like Frances, Gerwig gave herself an opportunity, with the task of writing and directing a film that regardless of it’s tight specificity in time - Lady Bird is set in early 2000s in Sacramento, California with references to 9/11 - her film encapsulates some very universal themes.
Her directorial debut, Lady Bird is a coming of age story, about a girl, named Christine, but known as “Lady Bird” (a name “given to myself by me”) desperate to be something, to go to New York where there is “culture” or where “writers live in the woods.” Christine “Lady Bird” Mcpherson is a girl with ambition, and although Gerwig has adamantly expressed that this is not an autobiographical film, she too is a woman with a unique style and sense of purpose. Like Lady Bird, Gerwig refuses to fit in; with her protagonist Christine (played by Saoirse Ronan) christening herself “Lady Bird” as a direct response to the belief that she does not see herself as conventional, nor does she want to.
"We can all relate to the feelings associated with identity crisis, exploring sexuality, of the need to figure out what home means to us, of the desire to remove ourselves from overbearing shadows of expectations."
And, unsurprisingly, although unusually, this film has received some serious critical acclaim, nominations and some big wins. It has also received lots of criticism, which I believe is indicative of our social context, and is just part and parcel of a small-scale film making it big.
My initial reaction to Lady Bird was of pure love: love for the film itself, and a sense of the love that went into the production. Gerwig’s script oozes personality, and a poignant relatability that really made me feel as though I was reading my own diary - or atleast the diary of an adolescent girl in the midst of her transition from girlhood to womanhood, at odds with her loving, but “infuriating” and strong-minded mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) and her own identity as a girl on the “wrong side of the tracks” in sleepy California. The screenplay is drenched with hilarious honesty, and perhaps could have only been imagined by an actress as sure as Ronan, whom beautifully embodies her role as Lady Bird.
Acting throughout is impeccable and touching. A scene standing out monumentally, and resulting in me literally lifting my jaw off the floor and partaking in a knowing nod with my partner is when Ronan’s character finds herself on the other end of a painful silent treatment from her mother. We witness “Lady Bird” experience a full circle of emotions, as her mother, Marion - a woman in fact so similar to Lady Bird, as a strong, hyper-masculine breadwinner of the house - refuses to speak to her in reaction to being kept unaware that her daughter is moving to the other side of the continent to go to college.
There is also a very touching moment between Christine, and her on-screen love interest, Danny (played by Lucas Hedges). Without giving too much of the plot away, the two characters share a very compassionate and refreshing embrace, an understanding of social pressures, gender expectations and those spaces in between. Only two incredibly strong actors with a maturity and depth could have captured this so delicately, which they did so well. These scenes of universal feelings are what make this film so enjoyable, and relatable.
Granted, we are not all adolescent, white, self-assured females who, although may be somewhat limited financially, still possess options and a large degree of choice. But we can all relate to the feelings associated with identity crisis, exploring sexuality, of the need to figure out what home means to us, of the desire to remove ourselves from overbearing shadows of expectations. These are expectations from others, from society and the expectations we set ourselves in a world where we are taught to aim high, but also know your place. To be original, but not stray too far out of the box. The constant judgement from Christine’s mother, who says to her: “I want you to be the best version of yourself” is indicative of Marion’s own self-judgement, and what I see as a loving, yet perturbing problem that millennials and twenty-somethings are facing. Lady Bird’s reaction, although (intentionally) melodramatic and sulky, is utterly poignant: “What if this is the best version?”
The ending leads to some heart-warming feelings - moving to the other side of the country, far from her family and friends, Lady Bird finds an appreciation of her roots, with a refreshed perspective of herself, and on life. She reclaims her christened name of Christine, and realises, perhaps, that her limits are only set by her, not by her upbringing, or her name.
Lady Bird is a collage of irresistible moments. You’ll laugh, maybe cry, as you experience Gerwig’s authentic screenplay and some beautifully endearing on-screen relationships. It’s one of those life-affirming films that you can watch again and again, like you’re hanging out with a friend.
Catch Lady Bird in cinemas across the UK now.
Picture credit: Entertainment Tonight.