Greta Gerwig’s LADY BIRD. Coming of Age for the Stubborn
Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig is a film about nothing in particular. It’s just another family drama with good, even very good acting, skillful direction, and cool dialogues. But sometimes, you need to be able to tell a story about nothing in particular, and Greta Gerwig knows how to do that. She speaks with attention about the seemingly gloomy Sacramento, poking fun at her protagonist’s teenage ambitions. Because Lady Bird is largely a story about youthful ambitions, which always surpass their owner.
Some time ago, this Oscar-nominated film directed by an Oscar-nominated director had a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes.com – those who follow the film world know that this is equivalent to catching a god by the foot. Today, the score has slightly worsened (99%), but Lady Bird is still one of the most frequently honored titles during this awards season; it even won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical. Despite the disappointments and moving moments in the film, there’s much more here in terms of natural humor and fantastic dialogues, which give this seemingly trivial story a dynamic character. So, what is Lady Bird all about?
At the center of the universe is Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who insists that everyone around her call her by the titular nickname. Lady Bird is an average girl with average popularity, though in terms of character, she’s closer to the “losers” at a Catholic high school – she hangs out with the not-so-pretty and plump Julie (Beanie Feldstein), studies well but not outstandingly, and has an explosive relationship with her mother. And it’s this relationship that is at the heart of Gerwig’s screenplay.
In her solo directorial debut (she previously co-directed Nights and Weekends (2008) with Joe Swanberg), the actress known from Frances Ha decided to delve into her rich repository of memories and treat Lady Bird as a quasi-biographical work. Gerwig returns to her hometown of Sacramento, starting the film with a quote from Joan Didion, a fellow Sacramento native: “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” And indeed, the crazy, wild, untamed California is absent here. Lady Bird’s hometown is a rather boring area inhabited by ordinary folks trying to make ends meet – like Christine’s mother, nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who values love to the fullest but employs a rough upbringing style for her children, especially during the crisis caused by her husband’s unemployment (Tracy Letts). Lady Bird cannot understand her mother’s motivations, who encourages her daughter to choose a college near their hometown. With college on the horizon, the teenager wants to leave her place of birth as soon as possible to immerse herself in the creative vibes of New York, even though her dream metropolis is on the opposite coast.
In the character of Lady Bird, there’s something reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s characters: dreaminess, uncompromisingness, a certain detachment from societal norms. This “Anderson-esque” quality (which Gerwig is well-acquainted with, being close friends with her partner Noah Baumbach) can also be felt in Christine’s dialogues with her peers, who are often just as, if not more, eccentric than the titular character. Gerwig also pokes fun at the Californian blasé attitudes of the teenagers at the time (personified by the character portrayed by the new James Dean, Timothée Chalamet) and the approach of teenagers to the most significant issues (i.e., first times, substance use, and prom). As an adult woman and an acclaimed artist, she can look at her own naiveté and ingratitude with distance. She does so gracefully – there’s no room for cheesy humor and trivialization of teenage experiences in Lady Bird. Although Gerwig treats her protagonist’s often overly serious behavior with a wink, she carefully notes everything in the book called “Growing Up.” Everything that Lady Bird goes through shapes her personality and character, which are, after all, developed during the transition to adulthood. The director makes it clear that teenage experiences are very important, but they shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Lady Bird is a charming story, sometimes as light as a butterfly, sometimes as heavy as the fate of the McPherson family. Greta Gerwig triumphs as a storyteller, but thanks to her talented cast, she also masterfully guides her characters. Characters, mind you, because Lady Bird is a very feminine film: on one hand, it’s delicate and sensitive, and on the other, it can surprise you with sharp wit. Cinema needs creators like this, and audiences need films like this: clever and unique.