by Toby Woollaston
Greta Gerwig is no stranger to mixing a celluloid cocktail of angsty humour with a twist of social realism. In her sophomore years, the fledgling writer/director/actor was understudy to Noah Baumbach, both bringing about delightful films such as Francis Ha and Mistress America. With Lady Bird, Gerwig has spread her wings, gone solo, and showed us what a genuine talent she is.
Loosely autobiographical of Gerwig’s youth, Lady Bird is a hilarious yet powerful study of mother/daughter relations. The film takes great delight in telling this coming-of-age tale in all its nit-picky detail. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a fiercely head-strong student in her final year of high school. She is desperate to attend a College on the East Coast because that’s where “culture is … and writers live in the woods”. Her naive ideals unsurprisingly lock horns with her mother Marion, who thinks she should go to an affordable College in California. Tender moments are laced with comic hostility as the two belligerent personalities are perpetually wrought with tension.
Despite this strain, the film avoids getting bogged down in gloomy sentiments, keeping things buoyant and playful, and yet it never loses touch with the realities of an average family and their enduring flaws. As such, Lady Bird is an ode to the ground-swell of “normality”—a film about middle America, but could just as easily translate to middle New Zealand.
Although Lady Bird is predominantly Christine’s story, the film really belongs to both her and her mother. Laurie Metcalf delivers a standout performance as Christine’s mum. She runs a tight ship but when things begin to unravel at home the weight of her responsibilities as a mother, wife, and breadwinner come to bear.
It is a superb solo directorial debut from Gerwig, who has managed to get the balance just right—it is smart yet doesn’t feel preachy, is tender yet bristles with humour, and above all feels new and fresh. Greta, Greta, fly away home … and make another film this good. Please.
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