2 – 15 March, DCA
On first viewing, Lady Bird may not strike audiences as a particularly gripping film. It doesn’t revolve around an epic adventure, or a team of superheroes attempting to save the world (for the millionth time). Nor is it a timely commentary on political corruption, or a gritty new angle on some devastating historical event. Yet, despite its determined focus on interpersonal relationships (or perhaps because of it), Lady Bird is, in this critic’s humble opinion, perhaps the most heart-rending, beautifully immersive story being told in 2018.
Following the exploits of our titular protagonist, Greta Gerwig’s film is centred on the blossoming of seventeen-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ MacPherson (Saorise Ronan), desperate to break away from her humdrum existence in Sacramento. An ambitious, yet underachieving, pupil, Lady Bird aspires to move to New York (‘or at least Connecticut’) to gain some experience of culture and the arts. Her mother, fabulously played by Laurie Metcalf, provides a stern foil to her daughter’s youthful exuberance, cautioning restraint and lowering expectations at every possible turn.
The true hero of this film however, is Gerwig herself. Already with several writing and acting credits to her name, the director tackles social issues such as unemployment, isolation and exclusion, and of course, pubescent love affairs to help construct an engaging, believable world for her characters to inhabit. Without this grounded environment, her characters could not have flourished so successfully and with such relatable accuracy. Gerwig deserves an enormous amount of recognition for snagging a nomination for Best Director at this year’s Academy Awards. In becoming only the fifth women EVER to be nominated for this award, she faced an uphill struggle in outdoing any of her fellow nominees. Despite not being successful, it is surely a sign of great things to come, given that this woman is still at the beginning of her directing career.
In terms of acting ability, the stand out performers of the piece are undoubtedly Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. The pair develop their mother/daughter relationship with such tenderness and vulnerability that viewers may find themselves desperately searching for a large box of tissues. Their mutual distrust of one another’s behaviours, tempered by an undercurrent of obvious affection, provides a fantastic contrast, as both parent and daughter struggle to find the words to express how they truly feel towards one another.
If there’s one criticism that could possibly be levelled at Lady Bird, it is this: despite creating a world full of rich, engaging characters that move from humour in one moment, to devastation in the next, the film never feels like it has settled on what exactly it wants to say. Much in the same way as Lady Bird herself is undecided about who she wishes to be as person, so too Gerwig’s film isn’t entirely sure of itself. A full-on rom-com? Not quite. A coming-of-age tale about a girl from a tough background? Almost. Yet, even as this criticism is written, this nearly-but-not-quite quality that Lady Bird exerts only seems to broaden its appeal.
A film that is sure to produce many smiles and inspire more than a few dreamers, Lady Bird is a fantastic example of the kind of quality that can be delivered by some of Hollywood’s top female directors. May we be blessed with many more of these engaging, thoughtful dramas as the industry continues its slow, unrelenting march towards a more equal, representative landscape.