Barely two weeks before the Oscars officially close the door on another year of cinema, season favourite Lady Bird has finally come to the UK. And yes, it has most certainly been worth the wait.
For those fortunate enough to have caught writer-director Greta Gerwig’s debut feature during its initial North American run back in November, their viewing experience was pre-hype, pre-screener season dullards watching a cam rip on an Acer and calling it “boring”, and pre-bizarre backlash from strange, faceless keyboard warriors who genuinely think Gerwig only received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director because she is a woman.
Several years in development, Gerwig’s tale of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s (Saoirse Ronan) tempestuous relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and just-above-the-poverty-line adolescent life in post-millennium Sacramento is a modern coming-of-age classic.
Clearly crafted as a labour of love, Gerwig’s script flows and pops with organic depth and easy humour right from the opening scene. During a seemingly standard car journey, we are given a rich tour of Lady Bird and Marion’s fragile emotional states, sharp tongues, and overwhelming love-hate-but-really-love mother-daughter relationship before the credits have barely had time to roll.
As their story develops during Lady Bird’s high-school senior year, Ronan and Metcalfe quickly take over, dominating their scenes alone or together with perfectly awkward comic timing and the occasional overdose of fiery, pent-up passion. Gerwig’s ratcheting up of the relationship is rewarding in the sense that mother and daughter cannot help but spike regular conversations with sly digs and offensive remarks, only to immediately re-esatablish their bond over something as simple as a dress they both admire.
The genius, on Gerwig’s part, is that it plays out as the most natural thing in the world. As Lady Bird and Marion stand their ground before coming out swinging on topics of debate covering any and all poor teenage drama scenarios, it is impossible not to connect on the most basic human level with what is arguably 2017’s finest performance by an onscreen duo.
Keeping proceedings fresh is an extended cast of what borders on caricatures grounded in thematic reality (and sometimes simply outright comedy, personified by the school football coach’s approach to leading the drama club); blending seamlessly with Lady Bird’s journey against a bountiful backdrop of daft youth-infused humour, angst, and sexual frustration.
There’s the nice boy who’s too good to be true (Lucas Hedges – whose stock continues to rise), the rebel who’s too good to be true (Timothée Chalet – whose stock just went through the roof with Call Me by Your Name), the doting best friend (Beanie Feldstein – who has great chemistry with Ronan), and the cold-hearted rich girl Lady Bird longs to befriend (Odeya Rush). Lady Bird’s father stands out as the most interesting extension to the picture’s mother-daughter core, with veteran performer Tracy Letts adding a vital constant of introverted vulnerability to counter the more expressive emotions of the two female loves of his life.
What elevates Lady Bird to a level beyond the usual decent comedy-drama is that each move Gerwig’s characters make not only work in the moment, but actually build towards numerous satisfying and welcomingly subtle payoffs. On top of that, her direction is nothing short of beautiful; an example of finesse through striking framing and impeccable pacing (editor Nick Houy deserves a nod) that tightly binds her visual eye to the slick qualities of her script.
As usual with this sort of annual cinematic high, it is best not to read too many reviews before having experienced it firsthand. Go and see it, and have your heart warmed.