'Lady Bird' is a refreshing take on a teen-coming-of-age drama
It's easy to see why 'Lady Bird' has been critically acclaimed and earned five Academy Award nominations
Greta Gerwig has become the poster-girl for indie films that deal in the angst of young middle-class women in Millennial America. Through her acting collaborations with director Noah Baumbach, Gerwig has carved herself a space in modern American cinema as the smart young woman dealing with the pressures of singular self-expression and the demands of the hipster society in films such as Frances Ha, Mistress America and Maggie's Plan.
In her first step behind the camera, Gerwig has created a love letter to her hometown, Sacramento, which oozes warmth and affection. Lady Bird takes the traditional teen-coming-of-age drama and delicately breathes a refreshing new life into it. On paper it may seem odd that such a small film has received so much critical acclaim but on screen it's easy to see why it has earned five Oscar nominations for Gerwig's first try as a director.
Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a complicated 17-year-old trying her best not to mess up her final year at a Catholic high school. She is cynical but sensitive, uninterested but invested, sexually curious but prurient, embarrassed by her brittle mother (Laurie Metcalf) and her failing but loving father (Tracy Letts) who have sacrificed much to give her a better life, even if she doesn't realise it.
Stifled by Sacramento, Lady Bird yearns to go to college somewhere more exciting and cosmopolitan even though her grades aren't Ivy League material. She's also determined not to end her high school years as a virgin and so she falls first for fellow school-play cast member Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges). This is before circumstances push her into the arms of local rock star Kyle (Timothée Chalamet - deservedly Oscar nominated for his role in Call Me By Your Name, which also opens this week).
Lady Bird's difficult and tumultuous relationship with her tough, speak-her-mind mother drives her to make the kind of rebellious teenage decisions we can all relate to regretting.
WATCH | The trailer for Lady Bird
Gerwig's casting choices and wry sense of humour lift the film from just another also-ran teen bildungsroman to something more true, honest and relatable that also manages through its setting in 2002 to include meditations on life in the early post-9/11 years.
She basks Sacramento in a nostalgic dappled light that gives visual complement to her own conflicted feelings about her hometown and the dialectical relationship between promise and comfortable disappointment that it holds in the protagonist's mind.
Ronan is exceptional in her complicated portrayal of Lady Bird as a young woman on the brink of adulthood who exudes both intelligence and naiveté and can seem in one moment so beyond her years only to reveal just how much of a child she still is.
She's brilliantly supported by Metcalfe in the role of mother - tough but genuinely concerned; uninterested but quietly obsessed with her daughter's future and seemingly disappointed but deeply proud of the young woman she is becoming.
Through reserved and empathetic observation of the many contradictions of her characters Gerwig has created a moving, funny, humane and strongly feminist answer to the question posed by The Undertones in their 1978 song Teenage Kicks: "Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?" The answer is in that grey area between yes and no...