In my attempt to watch all of the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar I think I’m going to run into a slight problem. Every new film I watch is going to become my new favourite. I thought Dunkirk would always be at the top because it was, almost, flawless. Then I watched The Shape of Water and instantly fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine wanting any other film to win in March. Until I watched my third. You know that thing where you think you’re emotionally stable until you watch a film and start having a slight breakdown? That was my experience with Lady Bird. Then I made the mistake of Googling Saoirse Ronan’s age and became even more of a wreck. How can people so young be so talented and successful? It’s just not fair! I’ll admit that 3 weeks before my 30th birthday probably wasn’t the best time to be watching a film about an adolescent with their whole life before them. Nobody needs to be looking back on their achievements (or lack of) at a time like this. Luckily for me the supremely wonderful Greta Gerwig is slightly older than me so I was spared another break-down post-Googling her. I genuinely don’t know what I’d have done.
Greta Gerwig was denied a Golden Globe nomination for her directorial debut but has, at least, managed to infiltrate the all-boy’s club for the Academy Awards. Whether she’ll become the second female to win the title of Best director remains to be seen but, if you ask me, she really fucking deserves it. Lady Bird is Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical tale about a 17-year-old girl in her final year of High School. Living in Sacramento but dreaming of bigger and better things, Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has hopes of moving to New York despite the fact her mother is against the idea. Christine, who has chosen to go by the name Lady Bird, is at a difficult age where she is wading her way through hormone infested waters and trying to work out school, friends, boys, and her mother.
Gerwig describes this film as a female answer to films like Boyhood and she, once again proves, that she has the ability to accurately sum up the feelings of being a young woman. Lady Bird struggles with her mother who she believes, perhaps correctly, doesn’t like her. There is genuine love between the pair but an undeniable chasm lies before them both. Lady Bird is headstrong and dives into everything with gusto. Whether that be auditioning for the school musical or flirting with boys, she’ll do whatever it takes to get what she wants. From her polite and respectful first boyfriend to the cool and aloof second, love and sex aren’t easy things for Lady Bird to contend with. Her first sexual experience is a funny yet fittingly awkward encounter that leaves her underwhelmed and jaded by the whole thing. Lady Bird is a film that screams of truth whilst also being just the right side of quirky.
An atmosphere helped by a wonderfully astute script from Gerwig. The film is only just over 90 minutes long so not a second is wasted on words that don’t need to be there. The writing is sharp and to the point but also perfectly fitting for the characters. This isn’t a film that creates delightfully twee characters who are unquestionably lovable. Whilst she is, first and foremost, someone who loves the people she writes, Gerwig introduces us to people with obvious flaws. Mother and daughter are both stubborn and pig-headed. They both create tension and are equally to blame for the fractured state of their relationship. There are fantastic scenes where the whole tone changes based on one word or a tone of voice. This is a film that is so often on the edge and it’s fantastic for it.
It’s a testament to Gerwig and her actors that, despite everything, you still care for these people. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as the title character and fantastically realises the wild mixture of emotions that Lady Bird is experiencing. It is definitely one of her best roles to date as she flits between joy, anger and despair without missing a beat. Christine is nothing, of course, without her mother who is played beautifully by Laurie Metcalf. In normal teen dramas, the mother figure becomes nothing more than a one-dimensional thorn in the main character’s side. Thanks to Gerwig’s script, Metcalf has a great deal to get her teeth into as we see both sides of the story. Lady Bird’s mother nags but we get to understand why she nags. Gerwig respects both sides of the tale and makes sure everyone’s voice is head. Including Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father who is dealing with his own issues regarding his future. Every character is played with sincerity and with utter care and, together, they ensure this film flies.
I read somewhere that Gerwig wanted Lady Bird to feel like a memory. There is always a danger when a writer/director takes inspiration from their own life that everything will feel a bit self-indulgent. However, she has managed to avoid that trap and create something that always rings true and feels personal to everyone. Lady Bird’s life wasn’t exactly similar to my own upbringing but Gerwig has managed to present her story in a way that my own sense of nostalgia is piqued. Quite frankly, this film is a proper film. Greta Gerwig isn’t trying to do anything other than tell her story in the best way possible. Happily she succeeds.