Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, which she also wrote, is a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high schooler in Sacramento, California in 2002. As her self-given name suggests, she is brazen, assertive and unabashed. She craves independence and as the end of high school looms closer she sets her sights on East coast colleges, “where culture is”. The fundamental tension in the film however is created through the strained relationship with her mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf.
As the trailer shows, the relationship between the two is fraught; an emotional minefield that is constantly triggered. Lady Bird literally jumps out of a moving car to flee her mother’s words. Marion’s reprimands of Lady Bird’s messy room and dragging feet feel all too controlling for the free-spirited seventeen year old. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are able to portray this exasperating dynamic incredibly well. They both have barriers that prevent them from understanding one another, and the audience is rooting for them throughout to find some sense of affinity. There is one scene in particular, towards the end of the film, in which Metcalf gives a truly moving performance, that shows her character’s struggle to break from her damaging traits, that ultimately causes her to suffer.
Gerwig’s film has subverted the usual coming-of-age tropes, as Lady Bird is shown to be fearless in almost every regard, as is seen when she rebelliously voices her objection to an anti-abortion speaker at her Catholic high school. Not only does she take a stand here, but she also takes charge in meeting her crush Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). Refreshing is the fact this is not a clichéd first meeting, but rather a result of Lady Bird’s direct and unwavering approach. While things don’t go to plan, between the two there are beautiful moments of pain and love, that are amplified by the cinematography by Sam Levy. Timothée Chalamet’s Kyle Scheible is another romantic interest for Lady Bird; pretentious and aloof. Chalamet and Ronan work really well together and their casting in Gerwig’s 2019 film Little Women further shows their chemistry on-screen. Lady Bird does not revolve around Danny or Kyle, because Lady Bird simply doesn’t need a knight in shining armour.
She is however still a character with faults, and she does falter through her narrow outlook and self-absorption. She’s shown to be embarrassed by her family home, unaware of the strain on her parents to keep the family afloat and insensitive at times. Despite her shortcomings, she has a wonderful best friend Julie Steffans, played by Beanie Feldstein. Beanie is great in the role of supportive best friend, and she shines in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart (2019) in another high school role. The rest of the supporting cast is superb also, and Tracy Letts as Larry, is able to depict the lovable father in the middle of these two strong women. Larry is the antithesis to Marion: He’s reserved, quiet and tries to avoid the confrontations that Marion and Lady Bird are too easily caught up in. While he has his own pressures, monetary and internal, he’s able to help bridge the gap between mother and daughter.
Gerwig, from Sacramento herself, has said that, “the film in a way was inspired by events from my own life. None of it actually happened, but it’s all true”, and in this sense the film feels like an authentic depiction of the complexities of the mother-daughter bond and Sacramento itself. The film is only 94 minutes, but does all of the characters justice, and is able to nicely wrap up the story with Lady Bird finding clarity and a certain peace.