An exploration and celebration of female relationships, Lady Bird is a perfect snapshot of a teenage girl’s life.
”Coming of age” movies as they are so-called, appear with consistent regularity, particularly in the run up to awards season. The quality of these – particularly in recent years – means this is never a bad thing however. Linklater’s ambitious Boyhood enjoyed perhaps the most awards success, but more under-the-radar films such as the delightful Edge of Seventeen and Sing Street prove it is still a winning formula for a great movie.
With indie movie darling, Greta Gerwig, in the directors chair, and woman of the moment (or at least women of the London Film Festival as this is her third movie on the bill!), Saoirse Ronan in the titular role, Lady Bird has all the markings of another success. It was the surprise film on the LFF line-up, and the first screening of it outside of North America. Fortunately it more than lives up to the festival buzz behind it already, and its unique focus on the particularly important female relationships in the life of a teenage girl, and how they influence a pivotal moment for the character on the cusp of womanhood, are nothing short of extraordinary.
Ronan plays Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, a spirited 17 year old girl, who endures a tumultuous relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who despite constant bickering, seems less than keen to let Lady Bird “fly the nest”. Attending a strict Catholic school, Lady Bird navigates her final year of High School with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
What makes Lady Bird so wonderful is that whilst going through the necessary “coming of age” checklist of boys, college applications, angst and identity, the focus on the female-centric relationships offers a refreshing and unique perspective. In many ways, it is another teenage girl movie, or at least so it appears initially. However it also veers away from these expectations in wonderful ways, exploring romantic partners on the way, but acknowledging that they are not the most important or influential relationships in Lady Bird’s life.
Director Greta Gerwig summed up this film perfectly by saying, “the movie playing out in her [Lady Bird’s] mind is not the movie she is in”. This idea that the character of Lady Bird seems in herself to be ticking off the stereotypical teenage girl expectations, whilst the reality of the movie we’re watching is so much bigger and broader than that, is a truly wonderful. Whilst keen to have relationships with boys, firstly with nice guy Danny (Lucas Hedges) who also ends up liking nice guys, and secondly with moody Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the relationships which end up taking precedence are those with her mother, her best friend, her home town, and herself.
The strongest relationship explored is undoubtedly that between Lady Bird and her mother. Tumultuous and bitter throughout, the bickering opening scene somewhat sets the tone for their relationship, but where it ends up is so beautiful and unexpected. This is the sort of movie that will make you want to call your mother afterwards, just to say you love and appreciate her! Huge credit to Laurie Metcalf who is absolutely outstanding. There is so much repressed emotion which hides under an angry facade, but it is a beautiful and moving performance.
Saoirse Ronan seems to be able to turn her hand to anything, and despite being 23, she is totally convincing as an angsty teenage girl. In many ways an unflattering performance (Lady Bird is not caked in make-up), Ronan truly shines and her performance feels so raw, honest, and relatable. For any person who has struggled with identity, and particularly that idea to fashion yourself a new identity as she does, will be able to relate to her story. Her journey across the film is completely captivating, and despite the angst (which is necessary!), she remains likeable throughout.
Lady Bird is a perfect snapshot of a turning point in a teenage girls life, and whilst there are a couple of unexpected threads that aren’t wrapped up, where the film ends is so ultimately wonderful that any minor quibbles are suddenly no longer important. The female voice behind the camera is such an important one, and the fact that this film is about female relationships makes it even more wonderful. Supporting women in film is important, and supporting a film about women is important, perhaps now more than ever. For those reasons, and a plethora of others, go and see this wonderful film.