As an actress, Greta Gerwig is known for her quirky roles in indie movies, rising through the improvisational mumblecore movement and riding the crest of the hipster wave for the flat-white generation. Having co-written on several projects that she has appeared in, she has moved behind the camera to write and direct Lady Bird, a coming-of-age comedy drama set in Sacramento, California. The plot follows attention-seeking teenager Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) who is in her final year of high-school. Whilst clashing with her strong-willed mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), she navigates her way through the trials and tribulations of bad boyfriends, prom pressure, and deciding what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
The story itself covers common ground and the implementation of genre tropes displays a lack of originality in the narrative. Despite it’s familiar feel, it is intelligently written and sports Gerwig’s signature wit and edginess. With events unfolding in the filmmaker’s hometown, the semi-autobiographical film feels personal and yet explores universal themes of growing up and letting go that anyone can relate to. Eagerly seeking life on the east coast ‘where the culture is’, Lady Bird’s ballsy attitude makes her a plucky protagonist that audiences can root for. Her fractured relationships with friends, foes, and family are so fully realised, particularly the blustery bond she shares with her mother.
Experience in the core cast is key to the success of this piece and, being an actress herself, Gerwig draws magnificent performances from her lead Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf who portrays the role of the volatile yet loving mother to a tee. The pair trade verbal blows throughout, and their harsh yet heartfelt exchanges form the most pivotal and powerful moments in the movie. Tracy Letts completes a superb family dynamic with a more nuanced turn as Lady Bird’s father Larry, quietly trying to keep the peace as his wife and daughter are at loggerheads. Rising stars Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet play the aforementioned bad boyfriends, and though their characters are noticeably less developed than the central trio, they represent archetypal crushes that help pave the way for Lady Bird’s journey of self-discovery.
Lady Bird is a warm and wacky love-letter to adolescence which marks an important directorial debut for Gerwig. The identifiable style and substance from her career-to-date has carried through into her craft behind the lens, and her work carries a lot of emotional baggage along with the whimsical humour. Contrary to the protagonist’s complaints after a fumbled sexual encounter with an arrogant dirtbag, Greta Gerwig proves that it’s possible to have a triumphant first time finish on top.
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