Lady Bird - Review
Lady Bird Is a Film That Could Go On Forever.
This is the feature film debut from actress/writer Greta Gerwig, a much loved and respected actress most famous for her work in the mumblecore film movement, a term she visibly cringes at the mention of. These films, including movies like Greenberg and Nights and Weekends, rely heavily on the actors' ability to come across as natural as possible, with often painful reality as the result. Gerwig has cowritten two films with acclaimed dramatic director Noah Baumbach, 2012's Frances Ha and 2015's Mistress America. Both films are fascinated with everyday language, with characters scaling emotional highs based on meaningless interactions. This interest in language feeds directly into 2017's Lady Bird, immediately apparent in the film's rousing first scene, in which the titular "Lady Bird," played by Saoirse Ronan, argues with her mother about wanting to live through something tragic to give her life meaning. The essence of the conversation here, ignoring the scene's climactic conclusion, is one that Gerwig clearly admires. In Frances Ha, Frances (played by Gerwig) takes a two day trip to Paris, only because she was given the opportunity to stay in an acquaintances flat. She even displays abhorrence at the idea of going to Paris at first, saying she doesn't see herself getting there "super soon." In Lady Bird, this is a common theme. Lady Bird wants to go somewhere other than Sacramento (the real life hometown of Greta) like the East Coast, yet never says why. Later, she is called out by a teacher for expressing a clear love for Sacramento in her writing, for which she has no definitive answer to. This struggle to want to be somewhere or someone else is not uncommon in coming of age films, but it becomes something wholly new in Lady Bird.
Saoirse Ronan is described by Greta Gerwig in an interview as always "emotionally at a 10", when she was first reading the script. She was absolutely right, and it makes Lady Bird all the better for it. Saoirse, still a relatively new face in Hollywood, is far from her simple and thoughtful days in 2015's Brooklyn, a film I reviewed very positively and praised for Ronan's ability to be absolutely breathtaking and emotionally potent at once. In Lady Bird, Ronan is a stubborn teenager, traversing through wild mood swings that end nearly every scene. In most situations, Lady Bird enters the scene calmly, or with some semblance of self control. As the scenes escalate, she matches the tension with her incredible acting range, whether it's screaming, stomping off in a rage, or spouting out some all-too-cheesy dialogue after losing her virginity. She is often in the wrong in the film, yet we remain interested in her plight if only to see what she will do to get herself back in the right.
Actors are a huge reason this film is a success, with vets like Laurie Metcalf and playwright Tracy Letts lending their skills as Lady Bird's parents. Gerwig has discussed the idea that this film is secretly less about Lady Bird's life and more about her mother's. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the film's final act, in which we see Laurie Metcalf taking a stubborn approach to raising her daughter, realizing she has made a mistake only after the moment has passed. She now has to live with the decisions she has made, and is forced to stand by them, however horrible they may seem to her in retrospect. Through the many peaks and valleys of the mother daughter relationship in Lady Bird is her father, played by Tracy Letts. He is described as "good cop" in the film, accurately. While often serving as a minor role or a simple shoulder to cry on for the rest of the family, there is plenty to know about his character. A 50 year old father with two adopted children and a biological daughter leaving for college. This mixed with his apparent depression and tendency to keep his issues to himself culminate in an incredibly well rounded person, despite his minimal screen time. For him, this is a perfect set up; a father who keeps to himself is shown sparingly, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps of his life, as does his family.
For Gerwig, music is less based on quality and more on emotional value. Lady Bird's music taste is referenced twice, and can be best described as pop cliches that touch upon greatness. Original music is all over the film, and nicely complements the other licensed music, with acoustic guitars and drums featured heavily. While it never wows, like the music in Greenberg or Frances Ha, it provides the necessary mood for transitions, or scenes with minimal dialogue. The film deserves acclaim if only for its inspired use of Dave Mathews Band's "Crash Into Me", a song Greta is clearly fond of.
Lady Bird is a passenger seat car ride through Sacramento in 2002, a time where things were different. The semi autobiographical debut from Greta Gerwig comes across as precisely what Lady Bird's teacher says of her writing; a love for Sacramento seen through the attention she gives it. The film's end cements this as a fantastic mother/daughter film, along with so many other things. Greta the director is here, let's hope she stays for a long time.