Alexandra Petrache breaks down Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut.
An idyllic-looking, warm-toned piece of cinematography, Lady Bird captures the last year of high school in the life of Christine McPherson, or “Lady Bird”, as she prefers to call herself. It takes place in Sacramento, California, where Lady Bird has lived her adolescent life, made friends, and fallen in and out of love for the first time. The troubles and family arguments start when she decides to move to New York for college, as she wants to be “where culture is” and deems Sacramento too small or insipid for her taste. Her hard-working family cannot fully support her financially, and she gets into arguments with her mother Marion McPherson (admirably played by Laurie Metcalf), finds out that her dad has been battling depression and tries to hang out with the “cool kids”.
The cinematography is lovely, reminiscent of a warm and gentle autumn sun. The directing seems confident, solid and mature – which makes for a strong directorial debut for Greta Gerwig, consolidated by rich previous experience in the industry.
Laurie Metcalfe is brilliant (ever noticed how “brilliant” is a word used very often to talk about films and performance arts in general). I felt every emotion in the tone of her voice, her body language and the muscles on her face. Metcalfe plays Lady Bird’s mother, a hard-working nurse, who appears to be the pragmatic voice and engine of her family. She’s progressive enough, but worried about finances and to making sure her daughter has a chance in life at a comfortable existence. Clashes often arise when she thinks Lady Bird has unrealistic ambitions. Metcalfe owns the role, and brings on a roller coaster of emotions (happiness, sadness, desperation or exasperation) in an otherwise static and bland film. Saoirse Ronan also delivers; there is not an act out of place in her portrayal of the teenage girl.
Erm… nothing really happens. I watched the film with a few friends and afterwards some of us felt that the experience didn’t enrich us in any way. To me it felt as if I had stared at a blank wall for the duration of the film, like 1.5 hours of void, albeit pleasantly warm void. Like in any coming-of-age film, Lady Bird goes through a series of events that are normal for any teenager. This does help make the character identifiable with, but it fails to deliver any impactful moments. *SPOILER ALERT* Take the scene where Danny is found kissing another boy in the men’s toilets. This could have been a key moment in the film – Lady Bird would be devastated, right? Sad and angry and confused, like any teenager girl whose boyfriend turns out to be gay. Perhaps understanding and supportive after a while. Does any of that happen? Yes, but very muffled. There is no peak, no strong exchange of words, nothing to suggest this supposedly important and pivotal experience for the both of them is in any way important and pivotal. She leaves the men’s toilet and some time later they meet behind a café and hug. No peak whatsoever, like a dead heartbeat.
The Outright Bland
“Lady Bird? Is that a given name?” […] “It is given to me by me.” You’d think that a nickname defended so confidently would make some impression on the audience, would bring about a sonority like the beat of a gong. Instead, it is just a mundane nickname connected to a mundane character. Maybe this is what the film is all about: a regular girl who goes through regular experiences and has a slightly odd nickname. However, I feel that the aim was to present more than that: the trailer gives the impression that adolescent bombs of emotion, maturity and immaturity were to be dropped upon the audience. Shame the bombs were always defused just before exploding, like a violin cut off just before it is to reach the highly-awaited crescendo. It’s also not as humorous as it’s made out to be. It is a fine example of when a trailer steals the limelight from the actual movie.
Should you go watch it?
It’s a nice movie to watch on a rainy afternoon when you’re clutching a cup of tea in bed. Wait for it to get on TV.
Lady Bird is out now in UK cinemas. Check out the trailer: