Lady Bird



Greta Gerwig began acting on screen in 2006, but has since also strongly made her mark with writing.  She is clearly focused on the role women play in present day society and co-wrote two of her three features with director Noah Baumbach (FRANCES HA and MISTRESS AMERICA.)  She has worked with Mike Mills (20TH CENTURY WOMEN), Rebecca Miller (MAGGIE’S PLAN) and Whit Stillman (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS) but LADY BIRD, both written and helmed by Gerwig, is her debut solo directing feature film.


It is an autobiographical tale and one would imagine that by now, the ‘coming of age amid angst’ genre would be well and truly mined out for originality, but she manages to find a fresh approach.  The fact that it has been nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress (Saorise Ronan)  and Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf) is quite an achievement for someone so young.


It is 2002 and teenage Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan) attends the Eternal Flame Catholic High School and insists her name is Lady Bird.  She lives in Sacramento, California with her struggling mother Marion (Laurie Mercalf) and recently unemployed father Larry (Tracy Letts).  Lady Bird chafes at living in the staid state capital and dreams of moving to New York.  In fact a Joan Didion quote “Anyone who talks about Californian hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento” appears at the start of the movie.  The two males in her life are Danny (Lucas Hedges of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), an awkward, gangly, possibly sexually-confused youth with a love of musical theatre and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, Oscar-nominated for his recent exquisite turn in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) a rich kid musician who is given to much posturing and striving for radical cool.


But the core of the film is focused on the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion who is a nurse working double shifts to support her family and has zero patience with her daughter’s irked demeanor and wild grandiose schemes.  Both females are intensely strong-willed and stubborn, cut from the same cloth and unwilling to give ground.  Yet the love buried under the sniping and snarling interchanges is still evident. They have a complicated relationship that is beautifully written by Gerwig and the two actresses involved personify the fierceness and fragility felt on both sides of the age divide.  Laurie Metcalf, still glowing from her Tony win for Broadway’s A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2 (that can keep her three Primetime Emmys company in the trophy room) gives a career best performance and Saorise Ronan who has gone from strength to strength after her breakout role in ATONEMENT matches Metcalf scene by scene with expert comedic timing that is married with subtly nuanced dramatic shading. Her portrayal of a girl struggling to compel others to believe in her when she is still too callow and insecure to believe in herself is astonishing.  The role crackles with authenticity.


Sam Levy’s sepia pastel cinematography hits the perfect evocative notes and the soulful musical score by Jon Brion is an ideal accompaniment.


When a first time director selects their own past youth as the subject of a film it can veer into the narcissistic and self-indulgent.  But this is not some indie self-aware construct.  It is a vitally real and relatable dramedy, tightly engineered and at a short 93 minutes, contains nary a wasted word nor padded moment.



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