by Joanna van der Veen
Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut is a slice of nostalgia served up in super-sized American style: a beautifully realised coming of age tale that warms the cockles of your heart while subtly massaging your tear ducts.
The film centres on Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), known as Christine to her mother, a teenager in her final year of high school. She’s impatiently waiting for her life to begin, she wants to “live through something”and, most importantly, she wants to move far, far away from her home town of Sacramento. Pink-haired, outspoken and full of life, Lady Bird encounters many of adolescence’s bittersweet hallmarks: first love, first heartbreak, the ups and downs of school popularity, and fighting with her parents to name but a few.
The film covers less than a year of her life and is wide-ranging in its narrative. At its heart, though, it is about Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother Marion (a perfectly pitched Laurie Metcalf). From Lady Bird’s point of view, nothing she does is good enough for her mother; in one beautiful scene she solemnly says, “I know you love me – but do you like me?”. From Marion’s point of view, she only wants the best for her daughter – and can’t help but think that tough love is the best way to go. The relationship between the two women is painfully realistic and expertly realised; the dialogue between them is an example of screenwriting at its best.
Around this sparky protagonist and this central relationship, writer-director Gerwig builds a wonderful supporting cast in which many audience members will see something of themselves. Particular mention should go to Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie and Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as her two (very different and yet equally unsuitable) love interests.
This relatability sits alongside Gerwig’s meticulous attention to period detail, creating an overpowering sense of nostalgia capable of infecting even those viewers that have never so much as heard of Sacramento. Despite its indie credentials, Lady Bird is a teen high school movie, and it’s indulgent in the way that any teen high school movie should be. It’s funny – really, laugh-out-loud funny – and its characters are a pleasure to spend time with. It’s also packed with strong, realistic and engaging female characters – a rare commodity in its genre and sadly too rare in cinema more generally.
The final feather in Lady Bird’s cap? It’s but a sweet 97 minutes – and it doesn’t need a second longer.
Joanna van der Veen / Writer (London, UK – 1990) Joanna splits her time between freelance translation, writing and working for a local urban regeneration project. She loves films that err a little bit on the strange side, and previously worked for a multi-language radio station dedicated to independent cinema, attending a whirlwind of film festivals from London to Mar del Plata.