Honest depictions of teenage womanhood are hard to come by, but Greta Garwig's Lady Bird goes even further.
“The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome,” Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) drolly tells her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) in the opening scene of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird as they make the drive back to Sacramento after making the twenty-one hour trek to visit nearby colleges. It’s a gorgeously written scene that begins with the pair tearfully listening to the end of an audiobook of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and ends with Lady Bird opening the passenger door and throwing herself out of the speeding car – so resolute is she about her desire to go to college on the East Coast despite her mother’s attempts to stifle her ambition. Lady Bird, on the brink of adulthood, feels everything strongly, expresses her opinions without reproach, and both maims and charms the people around her with no intention to do either. A lot of films might treat the moment as frightening or foolish, but Gerwig celebrates Lady Bird’s grit and teenage doggedness, even at its most extreme.
Christine prefers to be called Lady Bird, considering it her given name (“I gave it to myself, it was given to me by me”). She’s a senior in a Catholic high-school and wants to be an actress, but keeps ending up with small, nameless roles in her high-school’s plays; she wants to go to a good, non-local university, like Yale, but probably not Yale since her grades aren’t good enough. There’s not really all that much of a driven plot to Lady Bird, apart from her quest to get into college, but perhaps the film’s backbone is nothing other than her turbulent relationship with her mother. Even in extreme moments (her mother gives Lady Bird the silent treatment when she finds her daughter has applied to out of state universities, even as Lady Bird emotionally breaks down in front of her), the wildly miscommunative and tumultuous, though altogether loving relationship will surely hit home. One of the film’s final scenes that sees Marion driving alone, finally, as she tearfully crumbles is wordless and altogether heart-wrenching: Metcalf is truly astonishing.
It’s not often we’re treated to such an honest and extraordinary coming-of-age story, never mind one that treats the passage through young womanhood with such subtlety and understanding. In fact, female-centric coming-of-age films themselves are few and far between: the last to make an impact was Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen in 2016 and Marielle Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl back in 2015. Still, what makes Lady Bird so damn unforgettable is the almighty sense of honesty infused within each scene. Lady Bird is growing up and although she’s altogether kind and passionate, she’s also kind of a jerk. The film never strays away from showing the real complexities of growing up as a woman and the almighty cluster of mistakes and learnt lessons that comes with it. What is most impressive about Lady Bird and the progression of its characters, though, is that so little of her breakthrough stems from her relationships with men. Obviously unavoidable and altogether untrue to teenage womanhood if they were avoided, the stints she has with men do go some way to her development, but unlike many of its counterparts, they take up only their fair share. Focused more on her connections with her family, her friends and her religion, Christine is more than just her relationships, she’s a whole heap of bright and tangled complexity; and Lady Bird is more than just another coming-of-age tale, it’s a future classic.
Lady Bird (2018), directed by Greta Gerwig, is released via Universal Pictures in the UK on February 16th, certificate 15.