movie film review | chris tookey

Lady Bird

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  Lady Bird Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
8.83 /10
Saoirse Ronan , Laurie Metcalf , Tracy Letts
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Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig

Released: 2017
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 93

A sweet, likeable study of mildly rebellious female adolescence.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Lady Bird doesn’t reinvent the coming-of-age movie, but it is beautifully cast and acted, an unpretentious comedy-drama that makes the most of a small budget. It reminded me at times of Crossing Delancey, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Brooklyn, none of them world-shatteringly original but films that stay with you because of their humanity and, there’s no other word for it, niceness. At the centre of the picture is an abrasive mother-daughter relationship not too dissimilar from the one that drove Terms of Endearment, and I mean that as a compliment.

One strength is the number of flaws in our heroine: especially her sense of entitlement and unconscious snobbery. The whole thing might not have carried a modern audience with it if the actress at the centre hadn’t been lovable despite those and several other faults, which I can’t reveal without giving away too much. Saoirse Ronan (pictured left) has the transparency of a young Meryl Streep plus enormous warmth. She is so charismatic that you can’t take your eyes off her.

The film is also refreshingly unafraid to delve into the psychological impact of relative poverty - an all too rare theme in American cinema. A major reason for the conflict between daughter and mother, a harassed psychiatric nurse (Laurie Metcalf, pictured right), is the precarious state of the family’s finances, with a father (Tracy Letts) who’s kindly but depressed, with unemployment never far from his mind.

There’s a lovely scene where dad goes for a job and loses out to a younger man, that makes a point about ageism that you - again - don’t often see in cinema. I’m not a fan of “victim culture” and “identity politics”, but prejudice against people with experience is all too prevalent, especially among the young - who, ironically, feel victimised for their lack of experience (which of course they would like to gain, if they only had the chance).

Class is also an issue, with our heroine wishing she weren’t from the “wrong side of the tracks” and lying in order to aid her upward mobility, with predictably embarrassing results. And, of course, there’s good old generation-clash. Writer-director Greta Gerwig makes abundantly clear that the differences between mother and daughter stem largely from the fact that they are very similar, with a tendency to speak their minds and not examine their own behaviour too closely.

I found the film lightweight and droll, rather than hugely original or laugh-out-loud funny. Actress-turned-director Greta Gerwig is good with actors but doesn’t exactly ooze cinematic finesse; and her script is stronger on cameo events than development and structure. The ending, such as it is, could really come at any point if the leading character were to take a step back and see her mother as she really is. When it comes, her revelation feels rushed and somewhat undermotivated, as though the film-maker realises her film is starting to go on a bit and needs a conclusion. This is, however, Gerwig’s first solo-directed film and miles better than her first collaborative effort, Hannah Takes The Stairs.

The film benefits from a distinctly feminine point of view (hooray!) and the fact that it is so clearly autobiographical. Gerwig, like Lady Bird, was raised in Sacramento, California, for which she demonstrates affection, despite her alter ego’s determination to leave and head for New York, where there’s “culture”. The film was shot on location and is all the better for being specific. Like Lady Bird, Gerwig attended an all-girl Catholic school and moved to New York to attend a liberal arts college. Interestingly, however, Gerwig makes her leading character not all that intelligent or talented - a shrewd move, since her ordinariness helps make her a character most can relate to, despite all those faults.

The near-unanimous raves from the critics may lead some people to expect too much. This is indie, character-driven drama with little plot, and there’s more talk than action. Gerwig’s style as writer and director is uncomfortably close to that of her off-screen partner, Noah Baumbach (whose best movie remains his 2005 effort, The Squid and the Whale). However, critics are rightly on the lookout for new female writer-directing talent, and Gerwig has it.

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