Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenwriter: Greta Gerwig
Runtime: 94 mins.
Australian Release Date: 15 February 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 29 January 2018.
Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut; yes, she co-directed, with Joe Swanberg, Nights And Weekends in 2008 but this is her first solo flight and it adds to her already established talents as writer and actor. The film, which Gerwig also wrote, has been nominated for five Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. That’s some debut! It can be safely assumed that the work, a coming-of-age story, is somewhat autobiographical as the main character, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and the changes she’s going through, roughly fit the director’s own life story’s time-frame, being set in 2002, when Gerwig would have been 18 or 19, in Sacramento, her hometown. ‘Lady Bird’ is going through a significant period in life as she faces the end of high school and the search for a college to attend, while questioning her identity and the unforeseeable future in front of her.
‘Lady Bird’ is in her final year at Sacramento Catholic High School, which she perceives as dull and uninspiring. She’s suffering from the normal teenage angst that most girls of her age go through: exam anxiety, who to hang out with, who to lose her virginity to and, most importantly, which college to go to so she can get the hell out of Sacramento. She regards everything exciting happening in the world as emanating from a non-specific ‘east’, about as far away from California as you can get. She’s dissatisfied at home, where she lives with her ‘mom’ (Laurie Metcalf), a hard-working nurse, her recently laid-off dad (Tracy Letts), her adopted brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott), because she sees herself as artistic while her family are viewed as unimaginative. Things look up, though, when she applies for a role in the school play and becomes romantically involved with the leading man, Danny (Lucas Hedges, the Oscar-nominated supporting actor from Manchester By The Sea). There’s more to Danny than meets the eye, however, and a Pandora’s Box of questions are soon tormenting ‘Lady Bird’s’ young mind, forcing her to open her eyes to the wider world. Coupled to this is her mother’s fury at her for applying to eastern colleges behind her back, leading to the silent treatment from ‘mom’, who keeps up a war of non-words for weeks. What’s a girl to do?
All of this is pretty standard coming-of-age fare. What stands out in Lady Bird though are the performances of the two leads, Ronan and Metcalf. They are blistering, both totally deserving of their Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Where has Metcalf been since Roseanne? She’s mostly continued to work in TV but this terrific performance should give her career a whole new life on the big screen, à la Jacki Weaver after Animal Kingdom. Ronan successfully plays a young woman some five or so years younger than she is in the flesh. That may not sound like a big difference in years but it’s a vast difference in the life of a woman; the changes that take place between the ages of 18 and 23 are pretty seismic but Ronan makes the teenage ‘Lady Bird’ completely believable. She’s incomparably different to, say, Eilis in 2015’s Brooklyn. More than for Gerwig’s direction and script, Lady Bird is worthwhile for Ronan’s and Metcalf’s performances alone.