Lady Bird

LADY BIRD. Starring: Saorise Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet. MA 15+. (Brief strong nudity). Directed by Greta Gerwig.  94 min.

This American film is written and directed by first time Writer-Director, Greta Gerwig, and tells the story of a high-school student who grapples with the turmoil of adolescence, and is caught in conflicted relationships with her mother and most of those around her.

It won the New York Film Critics awards for Best film of 2017, and their Best Actress award for Saorise Ronan, as well as receiving the top director’s award for Greta Gerwig by the National Board of Review. The film is semi-autobiographical in tone, and is based on the personal experiences of its young (35-years old) Director, Greta Gerwig. 

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saorise Ronan) is a restless student in her last year of high school at a private Catholic college in Sacramento, California, USA, in 2002. She is a rebel non-conformist, but is part of a warm and faith-based community at her school, which she takes for granted. She causes many frustrations and difficulties for the nuns who teach her, and she frequently tests their loving support as well as the support of her family. She is almost in constant  conflict with her mother, and manages with some difficulty to survive unhappy and unfortunate sexual experiences with Danny (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) along the way.

Lady Bird belongs to a lower middle-class family from “the other side of the tracks”, but she yearns to break free of what she sees as its constraints. She too eagerly anticipates womanhood. Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is doing what she can to love and support her, but Lady Bird and her mother don’t get along at all well. Lady Bird drinks, tries drugs, and engages in casual sex, and looks for an anchor in life to survive the turmoil of adolescence, and she thinks that she is experiencing only a fraction of what she considers life will give her in the times ahead. Both mother and father (Tracy Letts) are caring persons, but they are vulnerable too. Her mother is excessively critical of Lady Bird, and her depressed father is not critical enough. Both parents know that their daughter is having an especially difficult journey through life, but Lady Bird doesn’t realise that they are always willing to be by her side to help.

This is a touching, moving and witty film that is scripted beautifully, and it explores the gap between childhood and young adulthood in a very understanding way. It delivers fresh insights on the turmoil of adolescence with a degree of realism, that is both forceful and compassionate.

There is enormous pathos in the film’s depiction of the bond between Lady Bird and her mother that provides a key focus to the film. Mother and daughter are both strong-willed, independent and opinionated, but they care deeply about each other. Marion criticises her daughter constantly, but she works well into the night to provide the money to educate her. Lady Bird knows that her mother is doing that for her, but finds it hard to communicate that she is grateful.

The film argues movingly and dramatically that life’s many humiliations are secondary to the emotional ties that really matter, and it shows the personal pitfalls that lie along the route to  forming a mature identity for a young adult.

The direction of the film is outstanding, and the performances of Ronan and Metcalf are wonderful to watch, especially Ronan who inhabits the role of Lady Bird. Both Lady Bird and her mother show how easy it is to love and wound at the same time, without meaning to do so, and how difficult it can be to keep loving someone who always reacts impulsively to being offended.

This is a rare and honest film that gives extraordinary insights into difficult adolescence, and it does so in wise and understanding ways. The film is a beautifully told coming-of-age drama. Because of the maturity of its content, however, it is much more suitable viewing in parts for adults, than it is for young people.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Universal Pictures International

Released February 15th.,  2018

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