Lady Bird – movie reviewby James Robins
Delicate, poignant honesty marks out Lady Bird from other teenage tales.
Like many teenagers, Christine is stranded between identities, anxious for a way to hold herself in the world – confident but confused, passionate but sensitive. She prefers to be called ‘‘Lady Bird’’, her “given name” in the sense that “it was given to me, by me”. She craves the East Coast, “where culture is … where writers live in the woods”, over arid Sacramento, with its pick of dowdy colleges. Rather than face up to mediocre grades, she throws herself from a moving car.
Boys are trouble, too. There’s sweet, polite Danny (Lucas Hedges), then morose malcontent Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). When these impulsive first loves fail, Christine falls back on her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf): overworked, brutally truthful, but a rock amid the stormy seas of adolescence.
The film-maker behind all this is Greta Gerwig, who has mined her young womanhood in California for material. Lady Bird, her first solo writing and directing credit, follows the typical beats of coming-of-age stories (school balls, first jobs, friendships won and lost), yet because it’s partly autobiographical, it resounds with great frankness and authenticity.
Each scene is designed to provoke a painful – and funny – pang of recognition, like in the immediate aftermath of an awkward loss of virginity that Christine hoped would be special, when Kyle unchivalrously tells her, “You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.” Or the way Christine and her mother’s conversations sharply tack into pointed arguments, each line escalating the battle.
It’s this delicate, poignant honesty that marks out Lady Bird from other teenage tales that are either too knowing (Juno) or too prosaic (Boyhood) to be truly empathetic.
And as for Ronan, it is hard to imagine how she was ever going to top her vulnerable, impassioned performance in Brooklyn, another story of a woman striking out on her own. Yet here, she bares her character’s quirks, flaws and idiosyncrasies, making her all the more lovable.
We’re barely two months in, but Lady Bird may already be the year’s best film.
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the February 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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