Film Review | Lady Bird

Written and directed by American indie cinema maven Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is an honest, affecting and charming female-centric coming-of-age dramedy that plays like a beautiful tonic for our toxic times • 4/5

Quiet triumph: Irish actress Saoirse Ronan pulls off a subtle but masterful performance in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut
Quiet triumph: Irish actress Saoirse Ronan pulls off a subtle but masterful performance in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut

Christine ‘Lady Bird’ MacPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is tired of her native Sacramento. In her final year at a local Catholic High School, she yearns to set up shop somewhere more “cultured”, though a bohemian career powered by a stint in a high-flying university feels like little more than a pipe dream, given the cash-strapped status of her beleaguered parents, Larry (Tracy Letts) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Joining the school’s theatre programme along with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), Christine begins to widen both her romantic and social circles, and slowly starts to reconsider some of her priorities, and her assumptions about Sacramento, with whom she appears to have a relationship closer to love-hate than outright hate.

Writer-director Greta Gerwig, who cut her teeth on collaborations with that other American indie cinema mainstay, Noah Baumbach, creates a familiar set-up of characters and journeys, but what’s worthy about the film is that it makes no generic choices. This is a semi-biographical story concerned with emotional truth and nostalgic reflection; it isn’t just a boilerplate example of the “high school drama”. Coupled with some subtle but masterful photographic choices – cinematographer Sam Levy shoots the film to resemble a perpetual 90s late-afternoon in spring – the writing is similarly shorn of excessive drama; characters like the ‘head Mean Girl’ Jenna (Odeya Rush) and pompous pseudo-intellectual love interest Kyle (Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet) aren’t demonised – just portrayed as being part of the typical high school tapestry, littler humans who are likely to morph out of those roles soon enough.

Our main focus is of course Lady Bird herself, and Saoirse Ronan’s performance is a quiet triumph.

Making a big deal of an actor pulling off a regional accent and attitude is a facile critical tic, but there is something about the resolutely Irish Ronan feeling like a fully lived-in member of the Sacramento community that strikes the viewer as nothing short of inspiring. The thing is, that anything short of that may very well have spelled doom for the project, given how ‘Lady Bird’ being a natural part of her given geo-social landscape – rail as she may against the idea – is an integral part of the emotional weave of Gerwig’s project.

Unassuming but entirely absorbing, here’s a film whose ‘chill-out’ vibe actually brings it closer to worthiness than any other, more histrionic counterparts.

Parenting angst: Ronan and Metcalf have a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship
Parenting angst: Ronan and Metcalf have a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship

The verdict

Lady Bird is a tender and genuine coming-of-age story that delicately balances the autobiographical with the universal. Gerwig and Ronan work in perfect tandem to deliver up a snapshot of a fragile time with verve, humour and humanity. In a time when the representation of female voices – and their associated stories – is something constantly yearned for and discussed, Gerwig’s directorial debut delivers and antidote that’s culled from the heart, rather than any sense of forced ‘political’ expediency. To be enjoyed and savoured.

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