Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s first go behind the camera follows our protagonist Christine, who prefers to go by the film’s title (“Is that your given name?” / “Yes. It’s a name given to me by me”). She is set to graduate from her surprisingly progressive Catholic high school and is desperate to escape the small-town life she feels trapped in, exclaiming to her mother and friends she longs to go “where the culture is” which she believes is the East Coast.
A semi-autobiographical directorial debut could have easily resulted in something self-indulgent, but instead, Gerwig’s Lady Bird feels deeply personal, boasting emotionally complex characters and a lack of fear to show them at their most unlikeable; because people aren’t perfect. Lady Bird herself is somewhat of an anti-hero, she’s stubborn and annoying, but at the same time so endearing in her intense ambition to go somewhere other than where she has always known, to be liked, to be different, to be happy. You can’t help but want her to succeed. She says to her mother in an argument towards the final act: “I’m sorry I wanted more.” We never realize what we have until we lose it, we are always just wanting something bigger and better. I’m certain this will resonate with many, we forget how much our parents sacrifice for our ambition and in turn forget that they are people with ambition of their own. This revelation is at the heart of the film in the beautifully real family relationship Gerwig creates.
Lady Bird is a genuine masterwork. The cinematography is utterly mesmerizing, and the late 2002 setting for the film works hugely in its favour. Providing a sense of an era that somehow doesn’t drift into overdone nostalgia, and dreamy colour schemes that remind us of a time that teens, millennials and adults can all fondly recall.
From our opening scene, Gerwig constructs a visceral experience. We meet Lady Bird and her mother in the car ride home from viewing colleges, listening to an audio tape of The Grapes Of Wrath, crying their eyes out together. An argument quickly develops when her mother tells her “With your work ethic you should just got to city college” – this well timed and witty exchange results in Lady Bird flinging herself out of the car (hence the pink cast on her arm), sounds extreme but it was completely believable. This is thanks to what are probably two of the best performances this year, delivered by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe. Their mother-daughter relationship feels completely organic and their chemistry is undeniable.
My favourite thing about this film is simply that the performances never felt like performances, these characters felt like real people. I called my mum immediately after in some sort of haze, and was gutted to learn that it isn’t out in the UK until February. I can’t wait to take her. I’m sure many young girls will feel that same strong connection; with Gerwigs’ portrayal of ambitious teenage-dom and it’s clash with financially responsible and realistic mothers.
I have to say that the direction is superbly efficient, not a single scene in the film feels unnecessary or like filler, and the run time was perfect. It wasn’t too long but I didn’t feel unfulfilled, like I needed more, it ended beautifully in terms of tone and story.
Experiences like Lady Bird are few and far between, especially so from a first-time director. A true testament to what cinema is capable of.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a 20 year old actress from Manchester. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. She likes anything superhero-related and has a soft spot for trashy horror. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @_MillicentAnn