“Lady Bird” (2017)
Running Time: 93 minutes
Written & Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Featuring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith
Marion McPherson: “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: “What if this is the best version?”
You may be forgiven in thinking that this new film written and directed by Greta Gerwig has come out of the blue from an actress who has lit up the world of US independent cinema for the past decade, but in fact it is exactly what should have been expected of her. This new film “Lady Bird” (2017) is not even the first film Gerwig has written or even directed, she has been working away for years, in fact the only surprise is that the announcement of her undeniable talent has taken this long, but the reason for that is more political than anything else. As you might expect this is a low budget indie that touches many bases a feature like this should do, it is a personal story from Gerwig’s own experiences, has many great performances from talented actors but is told from the point of view of its female lead – this is something that is as unique as Gerwig herself, it is refreshing, new and speaks to Gerwigs own truth about aspects of her life to a certain point.
It has to be said that over the past four decades there have been many independent films that have seemingly announced new talents that are expected to go on and prove that their first or second movies are no fluke, that they have something to say and will be present in the making of films for some time to come. In fact every year after many festivals new talents emerge but just as fast they seem to disappear. Few original voices remain, but Gerwig has something going for her that so many do not, that is experience in the industry as well as another full acting career in many films that have not only been annual highlights but have remained in the lexicon long after their eventual home releases. Movies like “Jackie” (2016), “20th Century Women” (2016), “Mistress America” (2015), “Frances Ha” (2012) and so many more, not only inform individual characters but also Gerwigs own sensibility that come across in this unique film that brings to the fore a spirit that hopefully will be seen in the years to follow.
“Lady Bird” revolves around an outspoken teen learning to navigate a loving but turbulent relationship with her strong-willed mother over the course of an eventful and poignant senior year of high school.
“Lady Bird” is such an easy film to view as well as really enjoy that you could be forgiven for not looking past the surface story to dig beneath the plot and see what lies there. This is most definitely a character study of the lead, the formation of her persona showing what trajectory she is on, but never really getting there, I would think she is still on that journey now. Lady Bird is a headstrong young lady who knows what her endgame is but is not sure how to get there. All she sees is what she does not have thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence without knowing the inherent letdowns and dangers that exist there. Lady Bird also doesn’t realize that the it is the journey that is the experience not the getting there, as we will see towards the end of the film with her initial experiences in another place.
This is so well written by Gerwig that you can tell it is from her own experience whether or not the extreme characterizations are embellished or not, they ring so true that you will find yourself identifying with not one character but many. This is a personal story and as such it touches on many uncomfortable traits not only of Lady Bird but her mother and father as well as well as her fellow classmates. Interestingly it does paint a loving memory of Catholic School, being taught by Nuns, Priests as well as the lay teachers that fill out the staff numbers. This last point is most interesting as it illustrates openness on the part of the Catholic institution that is rarely seen in popular culture or in society in general. It shows a school that is open and not closed to new ideas, one with a sense of humor and a lack of dourness – we see Lady Bird hanging real conversations about life with the Nuns as well as doubts and emotion from some of the Priests. The other aspect Lady Bird captures, which many films based around adolescents do., is that everything at this age is amplified beyond anything else felt in life, this goes more so for Lady Bird whose mother features so highly in her life with similar thought patterns.
As this is almost entirely based around characters it is the performances that come to the front and center of this film, they have to be honest as well as believable, with the ability of the cast to believe in what they are doing as well as what they are saying, this is where motivation is so important. In this, Gerwig has recruited two extremely good actresses in Saoirse Ronan as the title character and the always-fantastic Laurie Metcalf as mother dearest. Ronan has proven over the years to be a most dedicated actress appearing in a variety of genres as well as varied budgeted films, but this must stand as her best performance, one that is fully realised from beginning to end, rightly nominated for an Oscar, she may even win if the tide turns in her favor by just a little. Then there is stage actress and “Roseanne” (1988 – 1997) veteran Laurie Metcalfe who has not made many appearances on the big screen, but here shines as a mother who almost cares too much and hangs on too long to her daughter. It may be hard to believe but this is Metcalf’s first film since “Stop-Loss” (2008) almost ten years ago, one can only hope that after this Oscar nominated performance there will more to follow. The rest of the cast is full of surprise as well with Tracy Letts as the patriarch of the family who gives a willowy vulnerable performance as a man caught between his life not quite beginning with a middle age crises looming, he plays the part as a man of his stature can. Also appearing are stars on the rise Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as Lady Bird’s sometime confused beaus, they are both great in very different roles pushing the lead along to some startling realizations about herself as well her relationship with future men.
It would be reductive to describe this as a coming of age film as it transcends that with the smart screenplay as well as fully realized flawed characters that explode off the screen in ways that audiences might not be prepared for. You will definitley come to know the truth of the characters as well as their motivations. This is another in a list of great films to be released over the past few months that are a welcome relief to the male dominated vanity projects that come in time for the Oscars. This is a film written and directed as well as featuring women in all the main parts, it is a perspective rarely seen in movies but gives it the originality to rise from a good movie to a great one, it will be interesting to see where Gerwig goes to from here, but I for one hope that her next effort is not too far away.
“Lady Bird” is out now on DVD.