Dir and writer: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein
94 mins, USA 2017
Although billed as the portrait of a mother-daughter relationship, I’d say this smart, funny, slightly weird (in a good way) film is more about a young woman coming of age than specifically about her relationship with her mother, although naturally that forms a part of the story.
Saoirse Ronan plays 17-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, a bright, rebellious convent-schoolgirl with ambitions to escape her home town of Sacramento. It turns out that her choice of ‘Lady Bird’ as a name has nothing to do with the children’s rhyme (fly away home/ your house is on fire/ your children are gone), nor with Lady Bird Johnson. Rather, Lady Bird sees herself as half lady, half bird. Why? I’ve no idea. It’s one of the slight weirdnesses of the film. Another one is: how come a white girl like Lady Bird has a Mexican brother? Maybe Miguel is a half-brother, her father’s child but not her mother’s? Who knows? But these are pleasing teasing mysteries.
Saoirse Ronan seems a little bit too old for her role. After all, we saw her only recently growing into full womanhood in Brooklyn, where, at least in Colm Toibin’s novel if not in Nick Hornby’s screenplay, the entry into womanhood is a tragic one. But her looking not-quite-the-right-age adds to the pleasurable unsettlingness of the film. She is a fine actor with a deep emotional range lightly carried.
At home Lady Bird is indulged by her kindly but depressed unemployed (and unemployable) father (Tracy Letts), while being held to account by her considerably less kindly mother (Laurie Metcalf), who holds down a busy job as a psychiatric nurse as well as having to do everything a mother usually has to do. Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), aforementioned brother, also lives at home along with his punkish girlfriend (a nice performance from Marielle Scott).
Lady Bird chafes against the small-town horizons of Sacramento, and the even narrower confines of her convent school. Yet despite excelling at the role of rebel – not just japes against the nuns, but seriously challenging their anti-abortion orthodoxy – she hankers for the apparently glamorous life led by the rich kids from the posh houses on the other side of the tracks. In order to hang out with them she drops her clever-but-homely best friend Julie (beautifully played by Beanie Feldstein).
But coming of age means learning some home truths …
Some very droll dialogue and very funny scenes enhance the charm of this defiantly female take on the traditionally masculine ‘when you’re growing up in a small town’ narrative.