Greta Gerwig's warm and fond tribute to family, love and home
Lady Bird is the coming-of-age tale of Christine McPherson; or "Lady Bird", as she demands to be known. It deals with all the usual genre tropes; angst, high-school popularity, rebellion, bad sex, there's even a prom scene.
What sets Lady Bird apart from similar films is that these cliches are only the setting. The basis being the relationship between the two leads. It's where the film really shines; with Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both giving a sincere and intense portrayal of the up and down nature of mother-daughter relationships. Lady bird isn't a movie that deals with false, over-the-top dramas for the sake of excitement. It's a movie that has been carefully put together, piece by piece, by director Greta Gerwig, as a loving homage to her own pre-adolescence.
Sacramento, California, 2002.
Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother - Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), are driving home after a tour of Californian colleges. Although initially enjoying listening to the radio together, the mood soon sours with Christine declaring she wants to apply to out-of-state colleges.
"I want to go to the east coast! I want to go where culture is!"
Marion is dead set against it, knowing the family can't afford the tuition. An argument begins and quickly escalates as Marion berates her daughters' work ethic:
"The way that you work... or the way that you don't work... you're not even worth state tuition, Christine."
During the climax of this argument – which is now just Marion talking over her daughter – angry, and not wanting to sit and listen anymore, Christine throws herself out of the car; which results in a broken arm.
This opening scene tells you all you need to know about Christine and Marion and their relationship; which is central to this film. Christine is impulsive, melodramatic, and sometimes selfish; believing herself to be the unfortunate product of her upbringing, declaring:
"I wish I could live through something."
But, she's also ambitious and artistic; proving to be a talented actor.
Marion is a loving and caring mother; a nurse by profession. But, she's clearly troubled by the situation her family has found themselves in. As a result, her behaviour can be unhelpful. Larry McPherson (Tracey Letts), Christine's father has lost his job and suffers from depression, something her age won't allow her to appreciate. There's a really interesting dynamic at play between these three that never feels insincere. With both parents playing very different roles; dad being more placid and agreeable, someone Christine regularly confides in. And mum being of stronger character, more realistic, and as a consequence, more irritable; at one point, scolding her daughter for leaving her clothes out and unfolded on the bedroom floor.
"Some of your friends' fathers could employ your father, and they're not gonna do it if it looks like his family is trash."
What impressed me most about this movie is how coherently it characterised the monotonous but overripe nature of adolescence, with the oft-unappreciated sacrifices of being a parent; all through the eyes of one character. All whilst never seeming unfair to anyone. In many ways, Lady Bird reminded me of Richard Kelly's brilliant, darkly comic Donnie Darko.
Not in tone, but in the sense, they act as an antithesis to the cliched teen movie. Now that I think about it, there are many similarities between the two films and I wouldn't be surprised at all if some influence hadn't been garnered from Donnie Darko as a whole, or from Jake Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Donnie himself. Either way, bravo!
The performances here are superb, and the cinematography and soundtrack create a warmth which radiates throughout the film. Whatever issue Christine may find and/or imagine with her surroundings or even the people in it. This is home; and she treasures it, whether she realises it or not.
Whilst Lady Bird contains several coming-of-age cliches, it distances itself from similar, more contrived movies by being about more than that. At its heart, this is a film about family, friendship, hope, and love.
Thanks to some excellent writing and directing by Greta Gerwig and stellar performances throughout, this film feels personal and almost caring, not just for Greta herself, but to the audience in general. So accessible is this movie, that almost anyone could find something familiar; something to relate to. A younger audience may attach itself to Christine, whilst an older audience may look upon it in nostalgia. The parents among us will undoubtedly be more empathetic towards Christine's parents, their sacrifices and the unreserved love they have for all their children.
Regardless, lady Bird is a beautifully well-made movie, one that made me cry, made me laugh, but more importantly, filled me with a warmth that reappeared every time I thought about it. I've thought about it a lot.