Review by Charlotte Boulton
The film neatly appropriates the coming-of-age genre, following Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) through her senior year in a Catholic school in Sacramento. Set in 2002, the film still resonates with youth of today through its perfect capture of teenage life: the first crush, the exploration of identity, and the terrifying college application process.
At the heart of the story is Lady Bird’s complicated, conflicted relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). The mother-daughter dynamic is perfectly played out, especially in a scene where Lady Bird complains about her body not looking like a model’s in a dress, and her mother replies suggesting she shouldn’t have had two portions of pasta then. The harshness of a mother saying what she thinks, and not what the daughter may want to hear, is very familiar to myself and likely many other women watching. Metcalf’s role is brilliant, and thankfully strays from the stereotypical one-dimensional mother that is often found in youth-centred stories. Her struggles with understanding her daughter come from a place of love wrestling with expectations and even disappointment. It’s something anyone who has ever not seen eye-to-eye with a parent can relate to, and grounds the story in familial reality.
Aside from the central conflict between Lady Bird and her mother, there are further subplots that stretch across the senior year. The essence of having your first crush is captured as Lady Bird discovers her interest in Danny (Lucas Hedges), a wholesome theatre kid, and she auditions for the school play to get to know him. For a former theatre kid like me, the theatre montages of rehearsal, warm-ups and bonding were nostalgic and warm. Lady Bird’s relationship with Danny begins with a kiss, which she screams joyfully about on the walk home, but falters when she makes an unexpected discovery about Danny’s sexuality. The camera cuts to Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) crying to Crash Into Me; the teenage emotionality is unashamed.
Danny’s name is crossed off the wall above her bed, and Lady Bird discovers Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) as spring rolls around. Kyle is pretentious: he plays bass in a band, doesn’t believe in the economy (despite being rich and at a private school), sits alone at parties reading and smoking and being impossibly cool and unreachable. Lady Bird likes him regardless. There is an incredible scene where she believes they both lost their virginity to each other, before he informs her he’s slept with at least six girls. The betrayal and disappointment in her own fantasy of this experience being special is a reminder of human naivety.
Lady Bird showcases the shame of being from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and wanting to escape everything you’ve ever known as Lady Bird defies her cash-strapped parents wishes and applies for East Coast schools. She struggles with overcoming her shame of being different to the uber-cool rich kids at school, lying to them about living in her dream house, and abandoning her best friend for someone shinier – and with a swimming pool.
I could write about this film for much longer; it ticks all the boxes for me. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is well-deserving of its Oscar nominations, and showcases a fantastic snapshot of what it means to grow up and discover what matters to you along the way.