UK Release Date: 16th February 2018
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Odeya Rush
Synopsis: A high school senior tries to make plans for a future away from California, while struggling with grades, her family’s finances and the oncoming tide of romance.
By virtue of being a film blogger in the UK, it’s common for me not to see some of the Best Picture nominees until just before the ceremony. Often, that late movie is not one of the major contenders, but is one of the more interesting movies on the shortlist. That certainly holds true this year because Greta Gerwig‘s light-footed coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird is another five-star stunner of a film that definitely deserves its place right up there in the thick of one of the closest Oscar races in years.
This is, at its heart, a movie about relationships. There are romantic relationships, of course, but Gerwig is equally interested in family bonds and in the unbreakable friendships that form between high school confidantes. Lady Bird is a quiet, unshowy movie that isn’t interested in shooting for the big moments and instead trades in quiet, but incredibly powerful, emotional poignancy. It’s a film that casts a spell so overwhelming that the measured final moments trigger a flow of tears that just won’t stop.
Much of that emotion derives from Saoirse Ronan‘s exceptional performance as the title character – an obnoxious idealist determined to secure a college spot outside of her Sacramento hometown. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is keen for her daughter to study locally and has major financial concerns at home because her husband (Tracy Letts) is struggling at work. Meanwhile, Lady Bird experiences new romance with theatre friend Danny (Lucas Hedges), but has her head turned by pretentious musician Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and drifts away from her closest friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
It’s Ronan who makes this movie fly, with a turn that’s recognisable to anyone who had their head in the clouds as a teenager. Just as her work in Brooklyn resonated with people living away from home, Lady Bird is a believable evocation of punctured dreams and the sense of teenage exploration. The latter comes to the fore in a selection of horribly awkward sexual encounters, as well as in the film’s gentle lampooning of Chalamet’s douchebag character, which could not be more different to his Call Me By Your Name role. He’s an arrogant imbecile who describes things as “hella tight” and claims to long for a world without money, but Lady Bird’s infatuation with what he represents is irresistible.
That’s one of the joys of Lady Bird. Gerwig evokes the early noughties setting – remember flip phones? – without beating her audience around the head with it. It’s about the feel of that time rather than an onslaught of cultural references for obvious comedy purposes. Most of the comedy of Lady Bird comes from sharp, pointed putdowns or the straightforward absurdity of being a teenager, though there’s the occasional weirdo set piece, with a sports coach takeover of a Shakespeare play bringing real laughs. This is a movie that earns its comedy with its commitment to its own, plausible reality.
Lady Bird, though, is successful on just about every level. The relationships between the characters are drawn with considerable depth and complexity given the rather brief 94-minute running time and Laurie Metcalf deserves to be handed the Best Supporting Actress Oscar on a platter. Every time the movie is about to swerve into genre convention, it takes a left turn – even opting to subvert the trope of the ‘heartfelt parting letter’ for yet another wave of crushing emotional power. This is a quiet masterpiece that starts with its characters crying at Steinbeck and ends with its audience crying at just about everything else.
Pop or Poop?
Lady Bird is, on the face of it, a fairly broad, crowd-pleasing comedy movie with a faintly nostalgic time period at the heart of its story. However, there’s something awe-inspiring and utterly overwhelming about the way it subtly walks the audience into a maelstrom of emotions, from which it’s impossible to leave unscathed.
Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are both awards-worthy and every cast member is entirely believable in their roles, which are written with an obvious sense of love, care and tenderness by Greta Gerwig.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.