If you think your hometown is small, I can guarantee Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saorise Ronan) thinks that Sacramento is smaller. Lady Bird’s native Californian suburb is suffocating at best. For Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges), a vivacious theatre kid with whom Lady Bird shares a brief romance, you cannot be who you truly are. For Larry McPherson (Tracy Letts), Lady Bird’s soft-spoken father with whom she shares her biggest dreams, the burden of unemployment is inescapable. All Lady Bird wants to do is fly away.
Lady Bird feels like the overflow of a teenage diary; ripped pages spill from the sides of this endearingly messy film, which makes you remember why you never, ever want to be 18 again. And yet, its messiness is its best quality. Being a teenager is never perfect, and Greta Gerwig never tries to steer away from this. Gerwig is certainly not new to the world of film, and you can feel that through her seamless storytelling, but her directorial debut emanates an air of fresh, unadulterated truth which makes Lady Bird as beautiful as it is.
But it is Laurie Metcalf and Ronan’s performance as mother and daughter which transforms Lady Bird from a coming-of-age story to something so much more. The more Marion and Lady Bird disagree, fight, or, more importantly, reconcile, the more their complex relationship unfolds, tentatively but with so much authenticity. When Marion learns from Danny that Lady Bird speaks of being from “the wrong side of the tracks”, a nod to the economic divide in their community, her role as a desperate mother quickly becomes apparent. As Lady Bird’s father struggles with depression due to being laid off, the responsibility Marion holds feels exacerbated beyond her control. Lady Bird and Marion’s relationship never feels loveless, just strained by pure circumstance, and the dynamic in their scenes together emanates this with utter sincerity.
With Lady Bird, Gerwig has truly taken flight. The sensitivity in her filmmaking makes for moments of brilliant comedy, and, indeed, heartbreak. To bring a cast together in perfect harmony, as Gerwig does, is an under-appreciated quality for a director, and it certainly sets her above the rest. Lady Bird makes you laugh, cry, and everything in between. It rips open old wounds, cleans them, and sews them back up ten-fold.
Image: Universal Pictures International