Lady Bird has got to be one of the most relatable films I’ve seen in years. There’s no big adventure, there’s no explosions, no life changing romances and mysteries needing to be solved. It’s just a simple, real, down-to-earth story. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a teenage girl living her last year of high school out. The future seems uncertain. She’s an aspiring arts student who’s still looking for her niche. Her family is poor and therefore cannot afford the universities that she wishes to go to. She’s wanting to get in with the popular crowd, despite her friend being happy where they are in life. She’s discovering love for the first time. And while all of this is happening, Lady Bird is constantly at odds with her mother.
Lady Bird is one of those films that clearly came from a place of passion. You could even argue that it could be biographical in a way. While I’m sure that not everything happened in real life, the film’s writer/director, actress Greta Gerwig clearly has taken elements from her own experiences and brought them into this film. To say that this is Gerwig’s first film – well, okay she co-directed a couple things before hand – it’s all very impressive.
I don’t know what I’d call Lady Bird. It’s funny, but not a comedy. It’s very dramatic, but also has a reliance on said humour. It’s light-hearted, but it tackles some complex and dark issues. But, unlike some of these genre defying films, this one feels like it’ll speak to everyone on some level. Even if we take out the dialogue entirely – which is exceptionally well-written and natural sounding – the actions that these characters do alone are very reminiscent of what we have all done. Nearer the end, when Lady Bird turns eighteen she buys scratch cards, a porno mag and cigarettes – I remember when I turned eighteen I bought the goriest thing in my local DVD shop and downed the first pint I’d bought. It’s small and somewhat inconsequential to the over all story, but the moments like these are what stand out and make Lady Bird really special.
There’s something very artful about the way that Lady Bird was shot. It doesn’t exactly feel dreamlike – I’d say it feels more nostalgic. It’s set in the years 2002 and 2003 and it feels like it. It doesn’t slap you around the head with that fact, there’s no “remember this” moment. It just plays like it’s 2002. Terrorism was still on the mind and mobile phones were very brick-like and were a point of paranoia and confusion. It does also feel nostalgic in that “remember high school” way. Again, it’s all matter of fact. There’s no scary teacher, soft tutor or over-the-top bully. It’s just school and the kids in it doing what we all as kids did. It does bring you back to, maybe not better (I know I hated my school years) but simpler times.
But I’ve just been avoiding the best part of Lady Bird, and that is the performances. Saoirse Ronan has almost constantly been the best part of any film that she has been a part of. Even if it’s been bad – like with Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones – she has always been great. Not good, great! This could easily be the best performance that she’s ever given to this day. Playing her mother is Laurie Metcalf, who most will recognise as Sheldon’s mother in The Big Bang Theory, but I’ll always remember as the killer in Scream 2. Again, this is the best performance that Metcalf has ever given. She and Ronan are on par with each other. The acting is great all around – it’s too early to say but I think we’ll struggle to see a better acted film all year – but it’s these two who deserve the most attention.
A lot happens in the film, but it’s heart is exactly where it should be, with Lady Bird and her mother. Theirs is a strong relationship, but not happy one. Most of the time they spend together ends with an argument. This is usually brought on by one of them saying the wrong thing in a passive aggressive manner, the other taking it to heart and then both being brought to the defensive. Lady Bird sees her mother as restrictive and her mother sees her as spoiled. It doesn’t get uncomfortable or pandering to the audience because we constantly see both sides of the argument. Neither of them is wrong with each point they bring up, but both go about it the wrong way constantly. It’s tragic, but never unwatchable or to the point of being unpleasant. It all builds up to an ending that did throw me at first. But the more I look back at it the more satisfying it becomes.
It’s safe to say that I loved Lady Bird. And not just because it’s a nice break before I get back to dinosaurs on an exploding island, Lara Croft jumping another great height and the Avengers beating another drone army. It’s an exceptionally well-written, superbly acted, bitter-sweet story about family. I can’t imagine that they’ll keep it in cinemas much longer, they never do with films like this, so the sooner you get to see it the better. I think it’ll be a crowdpleaser, even if the ending might throw people for a minute or two. It says something when, in a world of superheroes and action and comedy sequels and remakes, such a little film stands taller than them all.
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