Lady Bird (2017)

February 11th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Greta Gerwig; Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush; USA 2017, 94 min.

LADY BIRD is a mischievous turn of the century tale of teenage angst and suburban boredom carried with aplomb by a brilliant Saoirse Ronan as young woman beset by a rigid mother and a repressive Catholic childhood.

Gerwig kicks off her semi-autobiographical debut as a writer and director with the quote “anybody who talks about Californian hedonism has never spent Christmas in Sacramento”. Christine McPherson (Ronan) has renamed herself Lady Bird, and lets this be known at home and at school, verbally and in writing. Sacramento is an uninspiring place, particularly if you, like Lady Bird, live on the wrong side of the track. The family is struggling, with mother Marion (Metcalf) often working double-shifts as a nurse – and father Larry (Letts) is a victim of the recession. After finding out that her first boyfriend Danny (Hedges) is gay, Lady Bird makes use of an invitation to his grandmother’s splendid mansion to change her image: not only does she dump her best friend Julie (Feldstein) for the glamorous but superficial Jenna (Rush), she also pretends that she lives in said Gran’s upmarket abode. Obviously, this lie cannot last long, but when all is revealed, Lady Bird has lost her virginity to the politically aware Kyle (Chalamet), who turns out to be a nasty snob and womaniser. Lady Bird’s main target of scorn is her mother, who is desperately trying to hold the family together and just wants her daughter to study close to home. Meanwhile Lady Bird has set her sight on an East Coast university. With Larry backing his daughter’s follies de grandeur, the college search becomes the focal point of confrontation between the two women.

The scenes in the catholic school are often hilarious: a priest is directing a school play of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – but he is the American Football coach, and his directions on the blackboard look very much like the playbook for his usual students. On the TV the McPherson’s watch the first knockings of the Iraq war, but it makes no impression on them: just another war far away from home. Trapped in the1950s, Gerwig’s Californian capital seems to take pride in a provincial anti-intellectualism, and Lady Bird fights it in vain. Religion is still the overriding cultural influence; but materialism is king. Marion’s love for her daughter is expressed in monetary terms rather than emotional values.

Despite a rather soppy ending, Lady Bird impresses with a heroine who is anything but perfect. DoP Sam Levy (Frances Ha) uses sugary colours to highlight the infantile banality of the settings; Ronan’s towering performance leads an outstanding ensemble cast. Gerwig proves undeniably that California has places that can easily compete with the Mid West for American traditionalism. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 16 February 2018

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