A24 (2018)

 

Director: Greta Gerwig

 

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush

Coccinellidae, commonly referred to as the ‘lady bird’, is a widespread family of small beetles ranging fr…Oh, it’s not that kind of movie?

 

Certainly not, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is a sort-of-loosely-autobiographical coming-of-age story slathered with bad decisions, good decisions, highs, lows, the occasional rude word, nuns, a feuding but loving family, baggy trousers and a whole heap of Sacramento, California. At the heart of the story is Christine McPherson, aka 'Lady Bird' (Ronan), on the edge of adulthood though still struggling with her own identity.

In a post 9/11 world (2002…), desperate to please her perennially disappointed (but silently overly-loving) mother Marion (Metcalf) and her soft, yet sad father Larry (Letts), Christine struggles away at her Catholic high school, earning average grades and coasting along in a seemingly average existence with her best bud Julie (Feldstein). She dreams of a life on the East Coast attending college – a place where the “writers work in the woods” and culture blossoms – and where she can carve her own individuality free from the ‘shackles’ of her family. Not just content to be a free spirit, Christine also wants nothing more than to fit in. (the dilemma awakens). Switching allegiances to new uber-popular BFF Jenna (Rush) and crushing dalliances with nerdy, pleasant Danny (Hedges) and anarchist Kyle (Chalamet) do little to temper Christine’s defiant desire for identity. With incognito applications to East Coast colleges sent, Lady Bird’s desperation to fly free of Sacramento and into the big wide world may become a reality, but what version of her will be there to take up the challenge?

 

The coming of age movie. There’s plenty of them out there, some relatable, others not so much, but the one thing they all portray in their own inimitable way? The perilous quagmire that is growing up. Though Lady Bird does adhere to many of the usual coming-of-age conventions (mistakes, misgivings, early sexual encounters and the joy of friends) its pleasant deviation is that the story of our female protagonist isn’t tied to boys or love, instead it deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter – both strong-willed, very close but always far enough apart to seem distant. That’s really the crux of the story, there’s no raging issue, just a contained story of family and the bond of home. It’s a fresher take on the genre.

 

At the centre of everything is Saoirse Ronan, the young Irish talent whose name seems unpronounceable to many. Injecting the character of Lady Bird with the required spice, warmth, trepidation, vulnerability, drive and awkwardness, Ronan gives us an affable character that’s easy to follow and root for. It also helps that she plays the part immensely well, of course. Likewise, Laurie Metcalf is equally good as the fraught mother that bumps her daughter down a few pegs whilst working double shifts to support her dreams. There are no low points from any of the cast, with enjoyable turns from rising stars Hedges, Chalamet and Feldstein.

 

Throughout the movie, Christine is desperate to break free of Sacramento, the town that shuts her down at each turn and one that doesn’t align with her optimistic dreams and hopes. However, the movie acts as a near-tribute to the town (Gerwig’s hometown, no less) with its clear message that whilst the world may be a huge place filled with endless adventures and beauty, you’ll never know a place like home. Just as prevalent is the urge to find your friends and keep them close, for you’ll always need them in the good times and bad. Lady Bird succeeds greatly thanks to the scenes of Christine and Julie just…sharing moments – happy or sad. It all seems utterly genuine and that authenticity is something captured extremely well throughout the movie. The incisive writing is the defining factor to the legitimacy, the dialogue is frank and, at times funny, whether dealing with the Catholic School escapades, sexual encounters (or, indeed, sexuality), depression, fiscal issues or just larking about – Lady Bird is a well-written movie.

 

With its unashamedly indie roots, Lady Bird may come off as too hip at times, and whilst not a major detriment, it was certainly noticeable. In amongst the delightful cinematography, there’s a chic yet thrifty feeling to proceedings that lend an unavoidable quirkiness (shudder) to proceedings. There’s a trim runtime of ninety-three minutes here, but there’s also a lot being pushed into it – and at times, elements border cliché.

 

Mixing emotion with sharp humour, Lady Bird delivers a tidy coming-of-age movie that will have you smiling and maybe even reminiscing. It’s about the decisions that don’t always work yet end up being the ones that shape us, the bond with the place we call home and also about how our pesky parents may just have known what they were talking about at times – and if not, keep them close anyway. Alluring, distinctive and extremely well-acted, this is a very decent addition to the ever-growing canon of movies about that most frightful of things - growing up.

January 3rd 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

follow us
contact us
hear us