Film Review: Greta Gerwig elevates the coming-of-age genre with "Lady Bird"
In Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut Lady Bird, we are invited into Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson’s version of Sacramento, California, during her seminal year into adulthood. With Lady Bird, Gerwig takes us on a roller coaster ride of grimacing laughter, sexual discomfort, and the familiar sting of growing pains.
The film is set in 2002, where a pessimistic and determined post-9/11 America has waged the War on Terror, frosted tips are still a thing, and more importantly, Ice Age has been theatrically released. Lady Bird traverses the lower middle-class life, unaffected by tragedies outside of high school drama and romanticising a life of hardship and misfortune; yearning ‘to live through something’.
Lady Bird is elevated from stereotypical coming-of-age films due to the film’s well-crafted screenplay. Gerwig’s script perfectly captures the aches of adolescence whilst simultaneously avoiding over-done high school drama subplots. Formidable stock characters are in the minimum with stereotypical jocks, nerds and try-hards only filling vacant roles or have little screen time. Even so, despite their familiarity, even the background characters come with their own enjoyable twists: An average varsity football coach having to step-in and teach high school theatre to a bunch of drama kids lends itself to one of the films funniest scenes.
Lady Bird’s irresistible charm and understanding works like a fortune-teller at a destitute theme park, saying things vague enough to relate to us all, but in practice, it feels so personal and powerful to witness a cinematic Sacramento populated with people that feel so familiar to us. The film features a career-defining performance from Saoirse Ronan as the titular Lady Bird, and a revelatory turn from Laurie Metcalf as her hardworking mother Marion. A parent will do anything in their power to give their child a better life. However, the chaos begins when a child resents and resists the care and affection they are given. This tension is the main divide between Lady Bird and Marion, who battle a zero-sum game: A mother and daughter may love one and other, but do they actually like each other?
Buoyed by young talents and dependable veterans such as Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, and Tracy Letts, the film’s ensemble cast are at their best; no role brings detriment or holds another back. Powerful delivery and believable performances cement Lady Bird as a positive association for the cast’s future careers.
The cinematography by Sam Levy (who worked with Gerwig on Frances Ha and Mistress America in a different capacity) is not instantly acknowledgeable but can never be faulted for its tremendous sequences of the hazy Sacramento sunshine shooting through the glass stained windows and broken branches. Jon Brion’s wonderful original score for the film is reminiscent of late 60’s pop rock (see: The Monkees), mixed with melodic flutes to unearth a homely and comfortable listen – and the soundtrack is filled with early 2000 bangers.
Lady Bird is without a doubt one of the most beautiful films of recent times. Set in the adolescent period of feeling misunderstood, the film understands this feeling and illustrates them both personally and powerfully. Career defining performances, fantastic directing and beautiful cinematography elevate Lady Bird above your average coming-of-age narrative, grounding us with a smile splitting, heart-string-tugging drama worthy of its 5 Oscar nominations. The film reminds us of the struggle between who we are versus who we were raised to be. We may not be the best versions of ourselves, but no one else could be us better.