Sometimes you don’t need much to make a great film. A honest, simple story about coming of age in a place you don’t want to belong to, told with great actors by a skilful original voice. Lady Bird manages, without gimmicks, unnecessary drama or poverty porn, to move us while feeling close to Christine (aka Lady Bird) as she tries to escape her circumstances and who she is.
Lady Bird (Saiorse Ronan) attends a Catholic school and dreams of moving from her boring town of Sacramento, California, to the much more exciting and culture-filled East Coast. Not having the grades or the money to attend university there, she nonetheless continues her search for a better life, far from her house and parents “on the wrong side of the tracks”. After joining the theatre group – and meeting her first boyfriend – Lady Bird’s life seems to be taking off. But teenage life is never easy, and no matter how much she tries (and thinks she achieved) she can’t really escape herself.
Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s first solo directorial debut, and feels terribly autobiographical. That’s because its faithful, no frills representation of the life of a teenage girl – with all the ugly bits in the mix – is so honest, and manages to achieve such realism, that it’s hard to see it as just fiction. Christina’s relation with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) is one of the many highlights of this movie: they keep belittling each other, fighting (the mother wants Christine to grow up and accept her life circumstances, Christine wants something more, something artistic and soul-filling, far away from the Californian suburbia) and yet, they really care for each other. Awful things are said to one another, and yet, they are more similar than either would care to admit. The scene where they look for Christine’s prom dress is genius – they are fighting full on, and yet, as soon as the mother finds the perfect dress (they even share the same aesthetic sense), all is forgotten.
Everything feels fresh in this film because, though it’s a story that has been told over and over, Lady Bird comes from an almost unheard perspective – the low-middle class female one. A story about a teenage boy would definitely center around his first sexual experiences, and how he learned how to become a man; Lady Bird, strangely enough (as some want to see it as just “a film about women told by women”), easily transcends gender boundaries. She ignores her best friend to pretend to be cool (ah, the fickleness and strength of teenage friendship); she has a fairly disappointing first sexual experience; and she gets her dream to go to New York, but not on her perfect fairy tale terms – and you gotta give Gerwig credit to dare to show us what really happens after the “and they all lived happily ever after” moment.
It would be so easy to fall into stereotypes, or over the top drama, and yet, Lady Bird is subtle, slowly growing on you after you watch it – we all have our own personal Sacramento, California, after all – and it will make you smile and cry and have a hard look at yourself and how far have you become (to be so close of what you’ve always been). So much more than a mumblecore, or a manic dream pixie girl’s self portrait, we’re so glad something like Lady Bird exists.
Lady Bird was in UK cinemas from 23rd February 2018.