Lady Bird

 

starstarstarstar

 


A film that looks back on youth and adolescence in Sacramento, California, in 2002.

 
Lady Bird

Fly away home: Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf

 

Lady Bird is the name by which Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) chooses to be known when growing up in Sacramento with her parents, Larry (Tracy Letts) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf): indeed, it's the name that she insists on. She is a student at the local Catholic school for girls but, while close to her father, her relationship with her mother is a turbulent one and that adds to her determination to take advantage of her scholastic abilities to seek a place in a college on the East Coast.

 

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is a study of Christine's life and outlook in this period, the year being 2002 when she is approaching her eighteenth birthday. That aspect is central here, more so than any strong plot as such. From Gerwig's early days in the so-called mumblecore movies involving the likes of Joe Swanberg, she has built up an ever more notable reputation as both writer and actress, one aided by the success of her collaborations with her partner Noah Baumbach, especially Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015). But Lady Bird finds her taking a fresh step because she not only wrote it but has the sole directing credit.

 

It seems reasonable to assume that this piece is the closest that Gerwig has yet come to autobiography since she was herself born in Sacramento in 1983 and went to a school there just like the one attended by Christine. That is not to suggest that Lady Bird with its emphasis on family tensions and misunderstandings as well as on two early misjudged love affairs is indeed autobiographical, but it does mean that Gerwig writes whereof she knows. If the film is rather bitty at times, that seems to have been intentional as it moves forward at a pace through a series of episodes representing the growing up process as our heroine experiences it. Extra weight comes from the complexity of the main characterisations and not least in the case of Christine's mother who feels the need to take a strong guiding line with her daughter having herself suffered from having had an abusive father: good intentions on her part often lead to disastrous results. Metcalf is excellent here and there is very able support from Letts as father and from Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as the two youths who attract Christine and from Beanie Feldstein as her best friend.

 

Even so, Lady Bird belongs to Ronan who is totally in character as Christine. If all this leads to success rather than to triumph, that is confirmed due to the subject matter putting one in mind of Kelly Fremon Craig's remarkable debut feature The Edge of Seventeen (2016). That film, which also shared the blend of comedy and real feeling to be found here, may have had a rather soft ending, but that is even more the case with Lady Bird. Indeed, looking back on The Edge of Seventeen I feel that, although I praised it highly, my review somewhat undervalued it (I have since then seen it again). Consequently, I do not hesitate to say now that it is sharper and more truly touching than Lady Bird. Nevertheless, this new film is very good and Ronan's performance cries out to be seen.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Odeya Rush.

 

Dir Greta Gerwig, Pro Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O'Neill, Screenplay Greta Gerwig, Ph Sam Levy, Pro Des Chris Jones, Ed Nick Houy, Music Jon Brion, Costumes April Napier.

 

Scott Rudin Productions/Entertainment 369/IAC Films-Universal Pictures.
94 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 16 February 2018. Cert. 15.