Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein
Director: Greta Gerwig
In a scene in Lady Bird, the protagonist, Christine McPherson, a 17-year-old high school senior played by Saoirse Ronan, is in a changing room trying out prom dresses while carrying out a conversation with her mother through the door. “Do you like me?” she asks her mum. Her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, replies that she loves her very much. Christine comes out of the booth, fixes her piercing eyes on her mother and asks, “Yes, but do you like me?”
It’s interesting that the working title of this film, directed by Greta Gerwig, was Mothers and Daughters. Because while Lady Bird is pitched as a bittersweet comedy on adolescence, it is at heart about a relationship you can easily identify with – the peculiar love-hate paradox that a teenage girl feels for her mum.
You understand the teenage angst and confusion that pours out of Christine. She wants everyone to call her Lady Bird (“It is given to me, by me,” she says emphatically about the name). Like many teenagers, she believes she is made for greatness. It is why she wants to leave her “boring” hometown Sacramento and study in New York once she’s done with high school. Her mother, more practical and realistic about her potential, might seem unsupportive, which explains their prickly co-existence.
The beauty of Lady Bird is that it covers regular high school movie territory in terms of plot, but Gerwig tells it with an honesty that frequently makes you laugh out loud. Lady Bird shuns her best friend Julie (a fantastic Beanie Feldstein), has an ally in her quietly supportive dad (Tracy Letts), and falls in and out of love with two wildly different boys (Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet).
But this is essentially a tale of Christine growing up to understand her mother. It also shows that while you may leave home to find your destiny, a piece of where you came from stays within you. Saoirse Ronan brings a razor-sharp authenticity to the lead character, and by the end of the movie, you’re completely taken in by her. Metcalf is outstanding as her constantly aggravated martyr mother.
I have minor quibbles with Lady Bird – it feels typical in the beginning, and takes some time to find its groove. The protagonist frequently comes off as over dramatic and annoying, and the religious overtones are also dreary. But stay with it and it grows on you. It’s a keenly observed portrait of youth, and Gerwig casts a non-judgmental eye on the seemingly minor conflicts and dramas that make up every teenager’s life.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Lady Bird. In Gerwig it marks the arrival of a fresh new storytelling voice. The Oscar love is deserving.
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