Now and then a special film comes along that touches the soul, warms the heart and breaks it a little too. Lady Bird is that film. Written and directed by the multifaceted Greta Gerwig, this beautifully-crafted coming of age story centres around 17-year-old catholic high school student Christine, or as she prefers to be called, ‘Lady Bird’. Rocking a bright pink arm cast- a result of purposely jumping out her mother’s moving car- and faded pink hair, Lady Bird is quite the character. She’s distinctive not only for her rosy-hued accessories but also for her brazen behaviour, which includes etching the loving words ‘fuck you mom’ onto her cast.
Lady Bird follows Lady Bird during her last year of high school in Sacramento. Nothing particularly interesting happens in this time. She takes up smoking, falls in love, and tries her hand at becoming popular; all in no particular order. Her life is by no means mundane but it’s not filled with the thrills and spills one might expect. She experiences highs: she and her best friend Jules raid the school’s communion bread supply and snack on it while discussing their preferred masturbation techniques. She experiences lows: she’s constantly at odds with her loving but passive-aggressive mother. But broken arm aside, there isn’t anything very Hollywoodesque about Lady Bird and that’s why this it’s such a winner. Gerwig doesn’t glamorize the good or exaggerate the bad, and rather than carelessly dump dramatic highs and lows into her solo film debut, she carefully weaves small victories and losses into the storyline. It’s this simple, unexaggerated method of storytelling that makes her depiction of adolescence so unique.
Saoirse Ronan’s acting ability is no secret to those familiar with her previous critically acclaimed work (Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones) but her portrayal of teenager Lady Bird is one for the books. On paper her character’s defiant attitude could quite easily be misinterpreted as bratty or entitled, but Ronan makes her so relatable. So when Lady Bird curses, screams and cries, you’ll laugh, fret and sympathise; and in that order. The role of her exhausted mother is played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf. She embodies that of an overworked mother at odds with their child. They’re both difficult people but they love each other regardless. A large portion of the film focuses on their complicated relationship. It’s inexplicably complex and therefore never truly understood. It’s this exploration of their mother/daughter relationship that puts this film a level above the rest.
It’s set in 2002 but the film’s nostalgic feel doesn’t come from the outdated technology that pops up now and then. It comes from Lady Bird herself. We watch her doing things that teenagers did and still do, like auditioning for the school play and shopping for prom dresses. Gerwig handles her film with such care and dedication that at times it feels like you’re looking back at your own life and re-watching memories of your 17-year-old self.
So much of what makes this film special can easily be put into words- its brilliant script, Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding acting- but so much of it can’t. It’s reminiscent of Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight in that it too must be watched to be truly understood. It’s special for many reasons but mostly just because it’s a perfectly normal film about a young woman living, what is for the most part, a perfectly normal life. And I’m perfectly fine with that.