Film Review – Lady Bird (2017)

Coming of age story.  If your heart’s already sinking at the sound of that over-used phrase, then help is at hand.  It comes in the welcome shape of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s debut as a director, inspired by her own formative years in Sacramento.

Gone are the familiar tropes – the first boyfriend who becomes her one true love, the lightbulb moment that maps the course of her life.  They’re replaced by shifting relationships with family and friends, boyfriends that come and go, alongside moments of peace and others of raging conflict, all of which will resonate with the audience, especially women of Gerwig’s age.  At the centre of it all is Christine, although she prefers to be called Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronin), in her final year at high school and having to choose which college is for her.

What she wants is, inevitably, at odds with what her parents – mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) in particular – have in mind.  But mother and daughter are more alike than either would care to admit, which means Lady Bird is fiercely determined to go her own way.  At the same time, she’s discovering the joys and pain of falling in love, the ups and downs of friendship and where her own academic talents lie.  Just like any teenager.

What makes Gerwig’s film stand out is that it’s neither the usual teenage fodder or an adaptation of a YA novel.  It’s aimed at adults, who remember what it’s like to be a teenager, and that makes for a distinctly non-judgemental tone.  It’s warm without being sentimental, pin-sharp in its accuracy, full of acute humour and insights and changes in tone that spin on a sixpence: your smiles and even more frequent laughter suddenly turn to tears with next to no warning.

Lady Bird’s see-saw relationship with her mother forms is the film’s backbone.  They genuinely love each other but are so alike they continually rub each other up the wrong way.  In the opening scenes, they seem to be getting along fine, listening to a reading of The Grapes Of Wrath in the car and getting tearful – at least her mother does.  It doesn’t take much to an argument to start, with the inevitable extreme teenage conclusion, one that produces the pink plaster cast that she sports on her arm for the first half of the film.  It isn’t all the teenager’s fault: there are times when Marion is her own worst enemy with a habit of opening her mouth before she engages her brain.  Lady Bird could wring her neck – and you know exactly how she feels.

Much of the hype for the film’s acting has surrounded Ronan and Metcalf, both of whom are Oscar nominated.  But Tracy Letts’ compassionate turn as the father, the rock holding up the temperamental family, deserves just as much recognition.  He loves his wife and children deeply yet it’s revealed well into the film that he’s been struggling with depression for years, something that he’s managed to conceal at least from the youngsters.  From that point we see him through different eyes and, while the latest argument rages between Lady Bird and her mother, he sits quietly, just looking at the floor.

Praise has already been heaped on Lady Bird and it’s hard to put it out of your mind, but the film more than lives up to its reputation.  It’s a delight, beautifully observed, with some wonderfully composed cinematography and it’s especially good at showing people who love each other but drive each other mad at the same time.  By the time the credits roll, you’ll be ready to create some hype of your own about it.  And the smile on your face will take hours to dissolve.  Mine’s still going strong …….

Freda Cooper | [rating=5]

Drama, Comedy | 15 | UK, 16 February (2018) | Universal Pictures | Dir. Greta Gerwig | Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet and Lois Smith.