Sometimes, I find that a large number of positive reviews of something can make me more apprehensive about watching it. I always fear that the hype from the positive coverage will give me expectations so inflated that there is no way that what I watch would live up to them. That’s the reason why I haven’t seen Stranger Things yet and it was the main reason I was slightly apprehensive about Lady Bird. When the only things I here about a film are positive, I always fear that I will be left disappointed. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Lady Bird, this is a charming, touching coming-of-age film.
The film follows Christine McPherson, who goes by Lady Bird, living in Sacramento, California, going through her last year of high school, dealing with crushes, sex, applying to college and her economic background, her being fairly poor with her dad having recently lost his job. Now the description I’ve given of the plot is fairly light, but this isn’t really a film focused on plot, it’s one focused on character and mood. The film has the feel of a slice of life, that you are a fly on the wall in this moment of her life. There’s just this sincerity throughout the film that makes it such a compelling watch, and that is entirely down to an incredible script from Greta Gerwig, filled with great dialogue, characters and real weight to the whole thing. We see the difficulties in Lady Bird’s life, mainly the financial difficulties her family is in and the issues she has in her personal life. Leaning into her personal life, there’s an awkwardness to the romantic scenes in the film, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. The awkwardness feels believable, what you’d expect from a teenage girl, which in turn makes all of the situations with her character feel believable and endearing to the audience. The true heart of the film though is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mum, which is one of the most honest depictions of a tense mother/daughter relationship I’ve seen. It’s clear that there is love that the characters share but the tension in their relationship means that this love often doesn’t get a chance to shine. The arguments that the two have and the different expectations they have of each other feel believable all the way through the film and the culmination of everything we see between the two is a powerful, emotional moment that just feels so brutally real. I’m sorry if I’m not explaining this well but this is a film where you do need to see it to understand why it works so well.
The performances as well make the film work as well as it does. It goes without saying that Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Lady Bird, and her performance works as she doesn’t exactly make Lady Bird likable. She shows that Lady Bird is selfish, valuing popularity for most of the film over her friendships and having a strong disdain for Sacramento (which is a feeling I understand, I have a disdain for my home town of St Helens) but she does have a good heart in her, showing vulnerability and insecurity which makes her feel believable (aided by the lack of make-up, Gerwig making the decision to show Ronan’s acne, which really fits the character). As good as Ronan is, she is easily surpassed by Laurie Metcalf as Marion, Lady Bird’s mum. There’s this great mix of intimidation and warmth that Metcalf brings to the role, showing both an antagonistic and loving relationship between mother and daughter, Metcalf showing how hard she’s working to give Lady Bird whatever she has and the anger she has over how she feels Lady Bird is ungrateful for what she has, whilst at the same time showing the love that Marion has for Lady Bird, with the final scene Metcalf’s in being an emotional gut punch and a powerful, honest moment. For the other characters, Lucas Hedges is great as Danny, Lady Bird’s first boyfriend, one scene in particular being an incredible piece of acting, although to say why he’s so good would spoil the scene. Timothee Chalamet meanwhile is great at playing a pretentious arse with Kyle, Lady Bird’s second boyfriend, making the character insufferable, along with showing why Lady Bird has a crush on him. Beanie Feldstein gives another honest performance as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, showing the tensions that can emerge in friendships and the issues that someone can have with having a crush on a teacher. Finally, Tracey Letts and Stephen McKinley Henderson give powerful performances, showing the struggles with depression each has, Letts showing how he hides it from his family and how it’s gotten worse with him losing his job, and Henderson showing how much damage depression can do, and part of me wishes these elements were explored a little bit more, especially with Henderson, it feeling like there should have been an extra scene or two with him.
Now I’m sure there are thematic elements in the film I’ve missed, me being a white guy living in the UK, so I don’t have the knowledge of Sacramento which I think was important to the film, plus I had no familiarity with Merrily, We Roll Along (the play Lady Bird, Danny and Julie are in during the first half of the film) so there may be thematic connections I’ve missed. What I will say is that Lady Bird is one of the most honest depictions of life as a teenager I’ve seen. What Greta Gerwig has done in the film is create a snapshot of the life of a teenage girl in 2002, with no sugar coating of what is going on with her and her family, mixing in emotionally brutal moments with moments of gut busting humour, with the performances bringing out the brilliance of Greta Gerwig’s script. Again, it’s hard to describe why Lady Bird works so well without spoiling the film but it is the emotional honesty that gives the film its heart.
My Rating: 4.5/5