About a week ago, I thought to myself, none of the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year are truly great. At the time, I had already seen Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Get Out, Three Billboards and Call Me by Your Name. All of which are damn good movies, none of which grabbed me by the balls and sent me into an epileptic seizure, like Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and perhaps even La La Land did, last year.
And then came Lady Bird, a movie that I admittedly wasn’t super jacked about seeing. Another coming of age story? Oh Gawd! But this movie had all the hype. I usually try to avoid reviews and reactions, until I catch the movie myself, even if the movie was released in the US months ago. I couldn’t avoid this one, though.
Sure, the movie doesn’t necessarily have mainstream hype, but if you’re a film nut like myself whose Twitter consists of two friends you don’t know why you still follow, and a billion people from the film community, the situation is completely different. During the period of its initial wide release, I couldn’t use Twitter for 5 minutes before being slapped in the face by a barrage of Tweets on how great this movie is.
I now see why. Holy shit! This movie is the bomb. THE! BOMB!
Lady Bird is written and helmed by debutante director, Greta Gerwig. We follow Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who prefers to be called by her given name, Lady Bird — “I gave it to myself, it was given to me by me,” she says — as she journeys through her final year of high school.
The story isn’t something we’ve never seen or heard before. But Greta Gerwig distinct style and storytelling is gripping. Gerwig handles the material with such flair and confidence, that it’s hard to believe that it’s her directorial debut. By the end of it, I was emotionally overwhelmed. What a beautiful film.
Its premise may be mundane, but Gerwig shows us that there is beauty in the mundane. Lady Bird doesn’t feel like a conventional movie in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily follow a three-act structure. There is no central objective our lead character is trying to achieve (i.e. ‘let’s lose our virginities’ as seen in “American Pie”).
This is a character study. The focus is on breaking down the character to her bare bones and exploring her mindset and emotional state during a particular time period. It is raw, realistic and moving. Most coming of age movies are either feel good or hard comedies. Lady Bird is earnest and pure. But I’ll be damned if don’t praise the humour, as well. There were many times throughout the movie where I laughed till my stomach hurt.
I love character pieces. The characters here are wonderfully penned and well defined. Lady Bird isn’t a genius. She’s loveable and a genuinely good person, but she isn’t a goody two shoes, nor is she a hopeless scum of the earth. She’s a character that most of us will be able to relate to. She’s a character that I can relate to. She’s opinionated, passionate about art, gets good grades but not good enough for Yale, wants to fall in love, and wants to have sex (though, she’s unsure about that). She occasionally drinks (sometimes pukes all over herself) and every now and then enjoys a puff of a cigarette. Lady Bird wants to leave her small hometown of Sacremento. She wants to move to one of the exciting big cities like New York where all the artists are.
Interestingly enough, these actions aren’t framed as something negative. This isn’t one of those movies that hit you in the head with its self-righteous morals like a PSA. There is no “I told you so” moment at the end of the movie. There isn’t a definite turning point where Lady Bird wakes up in a hospital after suffering from alcohol poisoning, sheds a tear and says, “mom, you were right all along.” This isn’t that kind of movie. Here, Gerwig chooses to celebrate the fiery youth spirit (without shying away from the consequences) because it is something worth celebrating.
Lady Bird and her mother always get into arguments because they’re two highly assertive women who are also polar opposites. Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) works two shifts to help support the family. We understand why she’s tough on her daughter. We understand why she wants Lady Bird to be more realistic and less dreamy. It may seem like she’s trying to crush Lady Bird’s dreams, but in her mind, going to a college near home is less of a financial challenge. But despite their concern squabbles, some more serious than others, their love and connection is unwavering. The same can be said about the relationship between Lady Bird and her quiet and soft father, Larry (Larry McPherson).
There is no right or wrong here. It’s about understanding perspectives. It’s about the struggles of being a teenager and the struggles of being a parent, especially a mother, who more often than not, is the more emotional of the two. It’s a movie that both late teens/young adults and parents should watch. It shows how both sides can hurt each other. Yet, I have a feeling, when the end credits roll, most parents are going to look at their teenage sons and daughters and say, “See! That’s how tough it is being a parent.” And most teenagers are going to walk out saying, “Now you know how difficult you can be sometimes.” And by doing so, you would have missed the point completely. Lady Bird is a prism for self-reflection and it’s a prism to understand the other side. It is perhaps, more importantly, a prism for parents to understand their children. It is awesome!
But despite how good the writing and direction is, Lady Bird wouldn’t have worked had it not been for the phenomenal performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. Embodied by a less talented actor, the character of Lady Bird could have been an insufferable brat and the movie would not have worked. But Saoirse Ronan has a vulnerability and warmth to her that makes the character extremely likable. I love Frances McDormand’s performance in “Three Billboards”, but I am more impressed by Ronan’s performance here. It is more nuanced. It seems unlikely at this point, but I hope she nicks the Oscar.
Laurie Metcalf is incredible too, also playing a character that could have easily been turned into the annoying parent that wouldn’t shut up. But Metcalf’s does a great job expressing Gerwig’s brilliant writing. Every time she gets into an argument with her daughter, you still feel the motherly love below the surface.
Greta Gerwig directs this film with a unique style. Oftentimes the scenes in the movie don’t have a start and an end. A scene may open mid-argument and you can’t help but wonder how did it get to that? This approach to storytelling is uncommon and if poorly executed can fall flat. Not here. Here, Gerwig has you in the palm of her hands. This is a slightly-over-90-minutes movie but it feels like I’ve had an entire franchise to get to know these characters. I care for them, so, so much.
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Gerwig handles the material with such flair and confidence, that it's hard to believe that it's her directorial debut. By the end of it, I was emotionally overwhelmed. What a beautiful film.