In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.
‘Lady Bird’ is a sweet, sharp and funny coming of age drama from Greta Gerwig (in her directorial debut), an actress who has made a career out of writing and playing characters who are struggling to come to terms with their place in the world in films such as ‘Frances Ha’ and ‘Mistress America’. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, a typical teenager in her final year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California, as she navigates key touchstones of youth such as her first love, relationships and figuring out what she wants to be in life. In one of the film’s earliest (and best) scenes, she vents at her mother (an outstanding Laurie Metcalf) that she wants something important to happen in her life, but if the film has a message, it’s that it’s the little things that matter and those small fleeting moments are the ones that ultimately shape your life and the person you will become.
Saoirse Ronan is perfectly cast as Lady Bird, managing to keep her endearing even when her bratty, teenage streak comes out, and she plays off both her parents superbly, whether it’s the sweet dynamic with her father (Tracy Letts) or the more complex relationship with her mother. Like many teenagers, she is intelligent yet still has much to learn and understand, and I think this is shown through her ungrateful attitude towards her parents at times, who are struggling financially and cannot afford to pay for her to go to her preferred college. It’s testament to the smart writing on show that this feels more naïve than mean spirited and we can understand both Lady Bird and her mother’s point of view. Her experiences with boys (played by Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chamalet) walk the tightrope between comedy and heartbreak superbly and I thought her friendship with Beanie Feldstein’s Julie was wonderfully realised, with Feldstein particularly impressive.
I think what I liked most about ‘Lady Bird’ was the natural feel it had with every moment ringing true and feeling like a true reflection of what a teenager in Sacramento would have been going through at this time. The film is set in 2002 (complete with era appropriate soundtrack) and has a clear autobiographical streak running through it (Gerwig would have been 18/19 at this time), which I think helps in this regard. The film clocks in at a brisk 94 minutes and I felt it was a rare example of a film that would have benefited from an extra 20 minutes, with the frenetic pace (particularly nearly the start) preventing many of the scenes from having the opportunity to breathe. It feels like Gerwig is rushing through the key moments in Lady Bird’s life at this time and whilst this lends a manic energy to proceedings, I think it could have been improved by slowing down a little!
Greta Gerwig is one of the most interesting actresses working today and this impressive debut marks her out as an interesting filmmaker to follow as well. I thought ‘Lady Bird’ was really well written and smartly directed, with Saoirse Ronan’s wonderful lead performance beautifully bringing this insightful, funny and entertaining coming of age drama to life, and it fully deserves the almost unanimous critical acclaim its received across the board.
Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lois Smith