Pick Of The Week: Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s debut feature as a writer-director is a sweet, contented love letter to all teen humans living through adolescence and the harrowed mothers who relive it with them. Lady Bird is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story in which Gerwig pays homage to her hometown of Sacramento and examines the idea of home and how it “only really comes into focus as it’s receding.”
To say adolescents are difficult is an understatement. Most mothers would agree. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is no different. At seventeen she is finally on the brink of escape, from her elite Catholic High school, her small town life and the source of most of her frustrations - her mom. Lady Bird has dreams of her own. Of finding true love, of being self-sufficient and non-conforming and attending a liberal arts college in New York City. She is pleasant looking with a slim figure and pink hair. But also gracious enough to remind you that “being pretty hardly solves any problems.” Her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), is overweight but brilliant in math. She performs better than Christine in the school play auditions and lands the lead role, while Lady Bird is mortifyingly given a non-speaking part in the chorus. Lady Bird falls in love with two boys at about the same time. One is the school’s heartthrob Danny (Lucas Hedges) who kisses her and then says that he respects her too much to touch her breasts, while the second is super cool bassist Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) who is worldly, nonchalant and uncannily attractive.
With all this on her plate, it’s a lot to expect a seventeen year old to come to terms with her humble background and understand why her parents can’t afford to send her to a private college in New York City! Four time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan is flawless as Lady Bird, slipping into the role snug like a glove. She approaches the mysteries of teen angst and sentimentality with equal vulnerability, conjuring in Lady Bird a heroine who is simultaneously exasperating and endearing, made all the more relatable by her flaws. On the other hand Marion, Lady Bird’s mother played immaculately by Laurie Metcalf, is supremely overworked, both as a psych hospital nurse and a mother. She is having a hard time dealing with Christine. Lady Bird knows exactly when to push her buttons and can really get on her nerves sometimes. Marion is frank and practical and headstrong but also generous and thoughtful and loving. She is acutely aware of her family’s ‘averageness’ and it pinches her to know that she may not be able to provide for her daughter to follow her dreams. But being a self made woman, she is too proud to admit it, and worries that cut from the same cloth, Lady Bird judges her for it. Marion is a formidable character, and Metcalf takes the bull by the horns in embodying her, with a well deserved Oscar nomination to show.
This mother-daughter relationship, between these two strong, independent yet vulnerable women is at the heart of Gerwig’s film. Treading subtly between anguish and love, Marion and Lady Bird eventually find respite in each other’s differences, even as they quarrel over all the qualities that make them at their core, the same person. The scene towards the end in which Marion is seen driving alone and Greta creates a dramatic parallel of Lady Bird driving along the same roads in the same car as her mother, perfectly captures their tumultuous but uncynical relationship.
Gerwig’s ability to show restraint speaks volumes of her direction skills. The intimacy she shares with her characters on paper coupled with the freedom of interpretation she allows her actors, gives us truly wholesome on screen characters who feel authentic and retain a fresh spark throughout the film. Much care has been taken to contextualise the film for the early 2000's. The McPherson home still sports a single desktop computer, mobile phones are not yet ubiquitous and nobody is posing for Instagram selfies. The film's 90min run time is peppered with witty dialogues that are imbued with exceptional comic timing, creating many awkward but funny moments. There are also some fantastic meet cute moments like the scene when Danny casually mentions that “he wants to curl his hair like Jim Morrison” for the role in the play and although Lady Bird laughs along and gives him a full container of hot rollers as a gift, she still has to ask her older brother who Jim Morrison is.
We also couldn’t stop raving over Greta's use of music in the film. Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake is a song about a broken romance but it plays at a party and has the juxtaposing effect of accentuating the previous scene - a fight between Ladybird and her family. Music from classic bands such as Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morissette can never go wrong and it's in their comforting laps that Gerwig places key scenes, perfectly capturing that era's fast fading sense of innocence and giving the film its soft, vignette like feel.
With five Oscar nominations under its belt as well as two Golden Globe wins - one for Best Picture and the other to Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress, Lady Bird was definitely one of our top watches of the last decade. Gerwig has a special talent for portraying complex female characters with complete and utter honesty. Her latest film, a refreshing take on the classic American novel Little Women is testament to it. She does not put women on a pedestal. But neither are her female characters pitiful. Instead of sympathising with the women in a story, you find yourself rooting for them - in all their endeavours, even those clearly doomed right from the start. You become invested in their growth as people. Lady Bird is not the most popular girl, or the prettiest girl, or the richest nor even the smartest or the funniest. She is just a young girl trying to become a full person; someone she hopes her peers respect, the world admires and her mom likes. Not loves, but likes. Just like you and I and the other 1.2 billion humans still ‘adulting’ in the world.
Available to watch on Netflix