Set in 2002, against a backdrop of economic downturn, post-9/11 American disillusionment, and the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’, Lady Bird follows the senior year of 17-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). Desperate to escape her hometown of Sacramento, California, for a more ‘cultural’ scene, Lady Bird applies for expensive east coast colleges to spite her overbearing mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who wants her daughter to go to a local college. Lady Bird is a mess of youthful ignorance, defiance and self-assurance, as she navigates new friends, first boyfriends (Lucas Hedges and Timonthée Chalamet) and temperamental familial relationships.
The film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, has been described as a love letter to Gerwig’s hometown. Very loosely plotted around the titular protagonist’s journey of self-discovery and eager rebellion, Lady Bird is more an artistic snapshot than concrete storyline. The film blends teenage frustration with some strangely stirring subplot of loose Catholicism and strict class divisions, presenting stories about struggles with sexuality, financial insecurity, depression and disappointment. For this reason, it is an important cinematic work.
Some audiences may find the film ‘laugh out loud’ funny in moments, but it’s the film’s touching volatility that makes it memorable. Perhaps it’s my generation’s own disillusionment with unrealistic coming-of-age tales of first loves and witty rebellions, but something about the film is disappointing and off-key for me personally. The film is nostalgic not only in its imagery and lighting, but also in the sense that it is perhaps a sentimental adult reflection on the teen years, packaged in indie cinematography and editing. It runs the risk of becoming another romanticised tale of American youth, in an attempt to portray a demographic of American culture often overlooked in other coming-of-age films.
What saves the film is the dynamic between Ronan and Metcalf, and Gerwig’s poignantly real representation of the ever-tumultuous relationships between mother and daughter. The dialogue between them is heartbreakingly relatable and holds together erratic, though eventually rewarding, character arcs of redemption and the absolution of adulthood.
I rate this film 7/10.
Lady Bird is playing at Luna Leederville and Luna on SX from 15th February.