Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet. Directed by Greta Gerwig.
There’s a burden that comes with a film coming out after it wins awards and nominations – it comes with an expectation that it’ll be good. Unlike Get Out which came as a surprise for most audiences to enjoy, unburdened by its later awards prestige. Lady Bird, the solo directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, comes with a plethora of awards nominations for which it is hard to come out unscathed.
Lady Bird is your classic indie darling picture, a coming-of-age comedy drama about a girl wishing her life was a little bit more than it is. So far so Juno, and this too is named after the unlikely named heroine, with great character actors in supporting roles.
Juno is not the worst film in the world to be compared to, and Lady Bird follows in its footsteps wonderfully. From the off, there is a confidence to Gerwig’s direction that makes her appear as if she has been making these sorts of films for ages. Gerwig’s writing also has a sense of what makes people human; there are moments in conversation that feel so intimate and real that it could be happening right in front of you. There is also a telling brilliance to setting the film in 2002; 9/11 is in the background, the music and the clothes are just awful, and there’s something under the surface more than just a “inspired by my youth” story that a lot of actor-directors make.
Also in the background of this film is the growing sense that the world is changing. Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson wishes she was in the middle of something, unaware that it’s only with hindsight that she will realise the whole landscape of the world has changed. Her father being laid off from his job of some time is a knock on effect of the time, the technology is changing, the world is no longer the same, but in her youthful arrogance, she sees none of it. Its a ripple effect, building throughout the film.
It’s also well observed in the way people are ashamed of their background, not racially, but economically. Lady Bird lies about where she lives, and wishes she had a different life, all the while not looking at the bigger picture of what the world is.
For her part Saoirse Ronan owns the role, and is more than justified in her third Oscar nomination. As Lady Bird she is filled with the cusp of adulthood stubborn knowitall status that puts a full stop on our formative years, and eventually gives way to an understanding. There’s no mistake in Ronan’s praise and awards, and she’s not alone; Gerwig has assembled a cast and game players who all hold the screen brilliantly when they’re on.
Naturally, the supporting performance by Laurie Metcalfe as Lady Bird’s overbearing mother Marion is show-stealing, but those two are not the limits of the story. There are nicely observed characters like Timothee Chalamet’s knob-head boyfriend who spouts the kind of conspiracy BS that makes you roll your eyes and laugh at the same time, the kind of hipster of ’02 that reads a book at a party.
Lois Smith is also very very good as the head nun at the school Lady Bird attends, getting a great deal of mileage from few scenes with one stand out line (“Eleven inches for the holy spirit”) but there are two key roles painfully overlooked by the awards. The first is Lady Bird’s best friend Beanie Feldstein owns her scenes as Julie, someone who has the kind of never-been-kissed naive nature that endears and never grates, it’s through her we see the struggle of other teens who have their heads lower than being on the front cover of a magazine.
In one of the best roles of the film Tracy Letts smashes the role of Lady Bird’s father, an endearing man who loves his children and wife. It’s actually him who has some of the more poignant scenes, revelations about his mental health, how his children make him feel, his life up to this point which are not said by him, but in his presence. Letts is a master dramatist himself having written hit plays Killer Joe, Bug and August: Osage County (all adapted for films), and here has the sensitivity of many parents people may know. With his awkward manner and beard he resembles David Ogden Stiers or William Hurt, but it’s worth mentioning his performance.
The film is a snapshot of life existing as it does, with only one moment of over-the-top contrivance – the opening roll out the car. Apart from that, Gerwig has made a triumphant look at the time between teenage and adult, when there is very little anyone can do but hope for a brighter future. It is a feel good film in as much as it tells us that no matter what mid-section of nothing we feel we’re stuck in, we are headed for a good feeling. It also helps that it’s laugh out loud funny in places, and it signals the arrival of a major directorial talent. Greta, you’ve done yourself proud.