Directed and Written by: Greta Gerwig
Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges.
We’ve all been there – growing up, becoming a teenager, trying to find your own identity whilst also trying to deal with so many pressures that seem insurmountable when you’re only 17. It’s the age when events conspire to seem like the biggest tragedy, provoke the most embarrassment or the deepest emotion, without any sign of how to get beyond them.
So it is for Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played with intense believability by Saoirse Ronan, who is trying to find her sense of self while living in Sacramento, California during 2002.
She constantly clashes with her mother Marion (the outstanding Laurie Metcalf), who is a prickly, bossy woman with a life full of pressures and stresses her daughter barely glimpses or understands.
These two are so alike yet they can’t see it: opinionated, emotional and yearning for something beyond their ordinary existence.
Writer Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut said that this mother-daughter relationship is the love story of the film, and this relationship is what resonates far more deeply than the daughter’s awkward dalliances with two boys.
The opening scene shows us Lady Bird and Marion both sighing with deeply shared emotion after listening to an audio book during a long car ride, an experience that draws them closer together, yet within moments a carelessly expressed comment leads to a huge misunderstanding and a reckless reaction.
This scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with numerous situations between the mother who loves but cannot communicate with her daughter without provoking a backlash, and the daughter who in her turn feels misunderstood and unwanted.
The director aimed to have each of these people be “painfully failing to reach each other”, an aim that is convincingly and realistically achieved.
Gerwig’s skill allows the audience to cringe in shared dismay at each new outburst, seeing it coming and wondering why Lady Bird and her mother can’t help themselves or learn from their earlier mistakes.
The director succeeds in making the film “frothy and exciting like waves breaking on a beach”, followed closely by “a sudden undertow…and before you know it, you are in much deeper waters than you expected.”
This is exactly how it felt watching “Lady Bird” – one moment you’re laughing at the silly things and situations the main character experiences, and then the whole mood changes and things get serious when moments of amity are quickly shattered by a thoughtless or misconstrued comment.
Lady Bird also struggles to be one of the cool, sophisticated kids at school, ashamed of her family’s working class roots.
She falls madly in love with boys because she hungers to be in love more so than with an actual person.
She lies to find acceptance with the cool gang at school.
Her experiments with fashion, alcohol, drugs and music all reflect her constant drive to discover who she is (hence her rejection of her birth name in favour of the more exotic “Lady Bird”).
Her struggles and relationships with her family, best friend and assorted acquaintances are often depicted with humour, reflected by the audience’s gentle laughter at her predictable reactions, behaviour and affectations.
Her friendship with a girl at her school (Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein) is particularly sweet, showing how teenagers often view the world naïvely.
What was particularly moving about this film was how little people learn from their mistakes, repeating them in astonishing variations even when they gain some wisdom.
There is no happy ending, no neat resolution with all forgiven, just an ever-evolving awareness, hard-won maturity and an appreciation of one’s childhood home and family, just like real life.