TL;DR – A coming of age story with a strong emotional centre, and an amazing cast
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Last year I missed seeing Moonlight in the cinemas, due to its very limited release near me. Well, Moonlight went on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, and I felt a bit foolish for missing it. Well this year I made sure that this would not happen again and the last film on that list is Lady Bird and it has finally been released here in Australia. So today we are going to look at this magnificent insight into families under stress, yet still being resolute in the face of it all.
So to set the scene, it is 2002 and Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are coming home from a long trip visiting colleges in their home state of California. After sharing a wonderful moment it soon devolves into an argument and Lady Bird jumps out of the moving car. Lady Bird’s family is a hard-working but financially limited i.e. poor family living on the outskirts of Sacramento. Who is trying everything possible to help their children thrive when they could not, like sending them to a good Catholic School. Lady Bird loves her family, but she also kind of resents them and Sacramento for not being cultured enough. For example, she does not want to go to a local college, she wants to go to the east coast where real culture is. So as Lady Bird enters her last year of high school this tension builds both at home and at school.
At the heart of Lady Bird is the relationship between her and her mother, also a little bit about how beautiful Sacramento is, but mostly that first bit. Because of this, the casting of the film is central to whether it will flop or shine, and I am glad to say it is the later. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf have such an amazing chemistry with each other so much so that they can go from loving to antagonistic and then back again in the space of a moment and it feels natural to the characters and not in any way forced. There is a strength to their performances which sometimes presents itself as stubbornness and other times as deep caring. There is both a duality to their performances but also each performer makes it their own, and this is just amazing to watch. As well as this, Tracy Letts is really strong playing her father and Marion’s husband Larry. He is the peacemaker in the family, but behind the smiles, there is a struggle, and you see it in his performance and it is something I can deeply relate too.
As well as Lady Bird’s family there is also all her friends, or sometimes ‘friends’, at school, this is a coming of age film of course. You have Lady’s bestie Julie (Beanie Feldstein), the queen bee Jenna (Odeya Rush), the good Catholic boy Danny (Lucas Hedges), and of course the rebel Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). Now, this might just sound like the usual archetypes that you would see in a film of this nature, but not in Lady Bird. Instead, these feel like real characters with real lives that both help Lady Bird on her journey of self-discovery, as well as in some cases actively hindering it. It was great to see Beanie Feldstein in a more substantial role, she has amazing comic timing and I would love to see her headline her own project soon. After Manchester by the Sea (see review) and Thee Billboards (see review) it is nice to see Lucas Hedges play someone that is not an ass. Though on the flipside, this is probably a complete 180 from the character Timothée Chalamet played in Call Me by Your Name (see review), when you can play compassionate and punchable with equal veracity, then you are a big threat going forward. I think in the future this film will be looked back to like Scott Pilgrim as a film with a cast ahead of its time.
For me where the film works the best is in its story, which uses these fantastically created characters to help show the pressures someone from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ goes through just trying to get a foothold in the world. There are a couple of facets in this film I deeply relate to, one of which is that I graduated high school in the same year the film was set, so from a sheer nostalgic level this film produced a lot of feels. As well as this, I know the feeling of growing up in a poor area of a city, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, or the wrong side of the highway in my case, making comments that I never knew how much they hurt my parents until I grew up. However, while there are some parts of the film that I can easily relate to there are others that I don’t, and that is simply because I didn’t grow up as a woman, so I don’t have the direct experience that the film is drawing on. I never experienced the power differentials and open hypocrisy that Lady Bird had to face, and I think that more people would understand that hypocrisy if they saw films written and directed by women about women’s experiences. Also while I never went to a Catholic school, my parents did, and their nuns were not as nice as the ones here.
While I did really enjoy the film, there were a couple of plot points that were set up that never went anywhere like with Father Leviatch (Stephen McKinley Henderson), but these are really minor things. The emotional core of the film is solid, and I dare you not to tear up during that end sequence. You better believe Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both deserve their Oscar nominations, and frankly, I think they should also win that award. As well as this, Greta Gerwig, of course, deserves all the praise she is getting for her beautiful script and fantastic direction, and frankly, I am torn between Lady Bird and Get Out (see review) and would be happy to see either of them take out the big nominations.
In the end, do we recommend Lady Bird? Of course, it is a frank look at growing up under the pressures of modern life, it is a beautiful story about the relationship between a mother and daughter, and it is a fascinating coming of age story in an era where those are usually reserved for unremarkable cookie cutter cinema.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Lady Bird
Directed by – Greta Gerwig
Written by – Greta Gerwig
Music by – Jon Brion
Cinematography by – Sam Levy
Edited by – Nick Houy
Starring – Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith, Odeya Rush & Jordan Rodrigues
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R