Lady Bird is a beautifully-written, wryly observed and semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale from the wonderful Greta Gerwig, one of the most prolific and astute writer/directors in the indie circuit. Having collaborated with the likes of Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson in some of her best known comedic performances, there is a certain air of stilted, neurotic charm to her demeanour that she capitalises on in order to bring warmth to her words and her performances alike. In her second directorial turn, Gerwig presents us with Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a vibrant, self-assured and precocious 17 year old in 2002, who is desperate to escape the confines of her hometown of Sacramento and assert all she has to offer the world in the dream-like escapism of New York and the east coast, ‘where culture is’.
Whilst Gerwig’s directorial debut Mistress America was a love letter to New York, a city synonymous with eclectic culture and the realisation of one’s creative dreams, Lady Bird is perhaps a conflicted love letter to her southern Californian roots. Indeed, it is this motif that runs through the film’s core; the dichotomy of wanting to flee the humdrum banality and small-town mindset of one’s origins in favour of somewhere offering variety and excitement, whilst also longing for the familiar comforts that shaped us in our formative years. And with the contradictory relationship between Lady Bird and her hometown comes an equally complex one between mother and daughter. Laurie Metcalf provides a fantastically convincing performance as Marion, Lady Bird’s mother, who mirrors her daughter in being consistently frustrated and confused by the other, like two incongruent jigsaw pieces. In spite of its fractious nature however, it is clear that this relationship is anchored by a strong love, albeit one that both find difficult to communicate.
Lady Bird truly excels in its characterisation; even its smaller characters are given so much breathing room, be they Lady Bird’s parents, her friends or the boys she briefly dates. It is these characters who illuminate the themes that encircle the events of the film, namely the post-9/11 class tensions and political uncertainty of the early 2000s, the dawn of the digital age and the rejection of middle-aged Republicanism. In the midst of these ideas is the central concept Gerwig presents us with; not really knowing just how much we value home until we leave it. The film’s structure plays an instrumental role in reiterating this idea, composed of a series of carefully and vividly-composed moments in Lady Bird’s latter teenage years as she teeters on the brink of adulthood and independence. These moments are crafted in a woozy, vignette style at times, some beautiful and some sad, all of them illuminated by the nostalgic late-summer sunlight of California. In these moments life is depicted through the raw, intrinsic emotions of a particular experience and delivered with honesty and humour. Gerwig’s filmmaking style is truly admirable in the way that she realises people tends to look back on their youth as a series of scrapbook-like moments strung together by the feelings that underpinned them, rather than as a complete entity bound by closure and and certainty.
What sets Lady Bird apart from other coming-of-age films is the level of agency Gerwig ascribes her protagonist; Lady Bird is so intent on pursuing what she wants from life in terms of her life and relationships that she is not shy about jumping into things head first. The naturalistic dialogue and bold, layered central performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf provide the ramshackle charm and warmth that make this film so easy to relate to and so easy to fall in love with. With a wonderfully hopeful and evocative score provided by Jon Brion and Gerwig’s keen eye for characterisation, there is so much to adore about Lady Bird. It is a film littered with the ghosts of all of our adolescences, from the pseudo-intellectual mobile phone-sceptic Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) to Lady Bird’s high school best friend Julie who is ever-present in the highs and lows of her teenage journey (Beanie Feldstein). Lady Bird is an amalgamation of all the moments that make being a teenager equally wonderful and awful, and makes me endlessly excited to see what Greta Gerwig’s next directorial output might be.