Greta Gerwig stuns with her solo directorial debut Lady Bird, a charmingly endearing, witty coming-of-age film. Distinguished by its candid observations of mother and daughter fragility.
Seventeen-year-old Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who insists on being called Lady Bird, is coasting through her last year of high school. With her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) by her side, she navigates her way through first love with boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) and futile attempts to fit in with popular students Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and Jenna (Odeya Rush). All the while daydreaming of college and life outside of Sacramento. Which is one of many causes of confrontation between Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who must deal with harsh realities of tight budgets and realistic plans.
The film nails the coming-of-age staples of mischievous friendships, awkward firsts and excruciating attempts to fit in. However, Lady Bird’s true triumph is the refreshing and frank depiction of the explosive, tender and eternal bond between mother and daughter. Thankfully, Gerwig isn’t quick to paint either as the villain. Lady Bird’s dad Larry (Tracy Letts) is out of work, so as the only current breadwinner, Marion has to keep her family’s feet firmly on the ground. Stressed and overworked, she drifts between cutting remarks to sincerely apologising for low-key Christmases. With Metcalf’s tremendously layered performance there’s a muted undertone of devotion to her outbursts.
Lady Bird’s head is truly in the clouds, where it belongs at her age. Her endless list of ambitious constantly being swatted away by dismissive, mature hands. A yearning to leave a hometown she believes she’s outgrown consumes her, only to find the mundane can be comforting and home is more than simple geography. There’s an honest, pure quality to Ronan’s performance. From her DIY hair dye job and scattering of imperfections across her cheeks to her lovable warmth despite her naivety.
With a neutral colour palette, Sam Levy’s cinematography moulds the film into a photo album or a hazy summer memory. Along with a helping of period pop songs capturing the 2002 setting, the film will transport a generation to familiar territory, thankfully without heavy-handed nostalgia.
On double duty as writer-director, Gerwig describes Lady Bird as semi-autobiographical, which is evident through the sheer authenticity that cascades throughout. The film is another welcome addition to a recent surge of incredibly relatable coming-of-age movies directed and led by women. From Andrea Arnold’s American Honey which chronicled out of reach dreams. To Kelly Fremon Craig’s bittersweet account of growing pains in The Edge of Seventeen and even Julia Ducournau’s blood-soaked depiction of sexual discovery in Raw. While dealing with universal themes, it’s quietly satisfying viewing an accurate portrayal of adolescence turmoil from a female perspective.
A polished yet grounded debut, Lady Bird signals a promising film-maker in Gerwig, with magnificent performances from her leading ladies Ronan and Metcalf.