“What if this is the best version?” asks Lady Bird – a suffocating Sacramento teenager beautifully portrayed by leading lady Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Lost River). This is a question many of us have asked ourselves along the long road towards adulthood, and one that first-time director and indie star Greta Gerwig insists is perfectly healthy to ask in her compellingly told tale of blossoming youth.
Lady Bird McPherson is her name, it’s the name she has given to herself, for herself. She goes to school, develops crushes on boys and trash talks with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), living out the life of the average American teenager. However, resisting such simplistic cliched portrayal, Gerwig scratches away at the surface to reveal a story of resonance. Lady Bird worries not just about her mother (Laurie Metcalf) not loving her, but about her mother not liking her; such feelings of immense doubt in the relationship which has shaped her existence haunt the tone of the film. There is sorrow in that her accomplishments become tainted by the threat of creating further distance between them – success as a disguised departure from Sacramento, and foremostly, her family. Not being the most intelligent, the most popular, or even the most likeable kid in school is relatable, and our protagonist approaches these social hiccups with such humanistic familiarity. The film sympathetically and humorously deals with the frustrations of adolescence and the feelings of looming ambiguity that arise when leaving school and staring down life’s proposed next chapter.
Education, love, and friendship are all important, but the film focuses its concerns on perhaps the most important thing to a teenager going through a state of transition – parental relationships. Her relationship with her mother is central to the heart of the narrative; Gerwig shows such powerful understanding of the complex exchanges that are part and parcel with the mother/daughter relationship. Trying to impress, trying not to disappoint and trying to force change are all themes explored through their bond, of which possesses a distinctly cinematic purity. They both see glimpses of themselves in one another, and as this becomes more apparent, the narrative begins to take shape in exploring the battle they are both fighting – to both break free from one another, but to also nurture the part of the other that resides within them.
There are numerous coming-of-age narratives to be treasured in cinema; Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous spring to mind, just to name a few. It is not so much a clear influence of such films that is displayed throughout Gerwig’s continuation of such cinematic tradition, but a revitalisation. It is wonderful to see how such a story deviates and alters when told from a female perspective – this is a film of such heart and passion, and frankly, feels like it has demanded to grace the screen for quite some time. It is a film that many young teenage women will connect with, recognising some of themselves within the character, all courtesy of fantastic writing and performance on behalf on Gerwig and Ronan. Yet, it is a film that will also succeed in engaging and captivating such a diverse audience, and this is because every single character that inhabits the screen has dimension; they are so human that many will feel themselves personalising these characters into their own lives. Timothee Chalamet’s Kyle is the kid that cannot switch off his Californian cool, even if it results in him being less so. On the contrary, Lucas Hedges’ Danny is so heartfelt in his conception, and is a character whose friendly and radiant presence will cause the audience to erupt into glowing smiles whenever he appears on screen. These are people that many will identify as problematic, but will ultimately recognise, which is so important for cinema.
It’s a high-school film, a family-drama, but it is also so much more. It is a film that will be seen and enjoyed for many years to come. Hilarious, honest, timeless. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird not only takes flight – it soars.