Greta Gerwig marks her first solo directorial outing with Lady Bird, a charming, profound coming-of-age drama that represents a triumphant endeavour for the actress. You could even argue that with this project she may well have just directed a film better than any one she’s starred in – and her back catalogue is hardly poor.
Lady Bird comes at a similar time to that of Brie Larson’s debut from the helm with Unicorn Store, but as the latter cast herself in the lead role, the semi-autobiographic production that fixated on her youth was one full of nostalgia, yet Gerwig, whose film thrives on a similar theme, has cast Saoirse Ronan, ensuring this is not to much a film about looking back, but about looking onwards.
Ronan plays Christine, but insists her name should be ‘Lady Bird’ for she’s unable to quite get her head around the notion of human beings identifying themselves on a name their parents made up for them. This is emblematic of a young girl, 17 to be precise, who refuses authority, and while respectful, she’s clear on how she wishes to live her life. Her best friend is Julie (Beanie Feldstein), though as she begins to take an interest in boys, they soon become her primary focus. First it’s fellow drama student Danny (Lucas Hedges) and then Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). He’s in a band and he pensively reads books so people think he’s interesting. She prefers the latter. But while this is ongoing so are her college applications, which represents a great source of contention in her household, as while her father (Tracy Letts) is supportive, her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is anything but, as Lady Bird and her mother lock horns, persistently.
The film’s paramount relationship is the one between Lady Bird and her mother, and again it’s been well-crafted, for neither appear as villains, and while we adopt the perspective of the former, and see her side, we do appreciate also where the tension derives from, pressures on work, financial insecurity and ultimately a deeply ingrained love for her offspring are behind the decisions she makes, and the barbed comments she makes. It makes for a nuanced and complex dynamic, even to the point where at one point it feels as though Marion may be jealous of her daughter. Out all night, falling in love, experiencing so many things for the first time – at one point she shoots Lady Bird a look that almost says she wishes she could have these moments again.
In that regard Marion represents us, as while the film is about the future, and the one that belongs to the titular protagonist, it takes us back to that age too, and in such a glorious fashion, in no way shying away from the more serious, poignant themes and the difficulties in being 17, and yet it thrives in that enchantment, the newfound freedom we’ve obtained, our whole lives mapped out in front of us (in pencil). On a more negative note, there are points where it becomes apparent the screenplay has been written with the benefit of hindsight, for Lady Bird occasionally says things that are just a little too self-aware, but it’s a small blemish on an otherwise accomplished production that will live long in the memory.
Lady Bird is released on February 16th.