With the polarizing, cynical headspace that characterizes 2018, I can’t imagine a film more out of place, or sorely needed, than Lady Bird. On the surface it’s just another adolescent coming-of-age tale. There aren’t any tricks here – there’s no gimmick to Lady Bird unless you count sincere direction and snappy, evocative writing as a gimmick. Lady Bird is special because of its sincerity, its joy and its honesty.
Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she cruises through her last few months of high school and, hopefully, into college. Lady Bird is an inferno, blazing rapidly through life, doing what she wants regardless of the damage she leaves behind. This brings her into conflict with her often overbearing mother, who can’t seem to reconcile Lady Bird’s dreams with the economic reality of their lives. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is the heart of the film, as writer and director Greta Gerwig deftly avoids portraying their relationship as one note; it’s like a war, a ceasefire, a massacre and a peace talk all at once.
The thesis of Lady Bird speaks to the how our identity is reinforced and complicated by our environment. This tension is shown in Lady Bird herself, whose environment conflicts with her ideal self, causing rifts in her temperament that manifest themselves in various ways. She struggles with empathy, perspective, self-confidence and controlling her own impulses, which again echoes the headspace of 2018. Part of what makes Lady Bird special is how Gerwig chooses to approach this territory: the movie is never dire or fatalist. It isn’t about the death of childhood and the acceptance of conformity. It’s a joyful celebration of our second births, of the messy, frustrating, explosively self-exploratory nature of adolescence.
Lady Bird is more than just a wholesome adolescent drama. It’s actually a comedy, and a fierce one at that. It is frequently conducive to belly laughs, with a playful mood that’s imbued into the film’s bones. And, importantly, it is never mean. All the laughs came from Gerwig’s wit and knack for playing with circumstance.
The film is beautifully shot with a distinct and consistently interesting style; from Lady Bird’s pastel pink hair to a nun surrounded by fire, the visuals exude a confident whimsy that provides a beautiful playground for the plot. Speaking of the plot: it’s flawlessly paced. All of this is more impressive when you learn that this is Gerwig’s directorial debut. Her confidence frames every scene of the film firmly, no doubt a testament to her skill as a director. She knows what you expect to happen and what you want to happen, so she does something better that you’d never see coming.
There’s a joy in every moment of Lady Bird, and while I love film analysis, I feel that going into more specific detail about the film would spoil the first viewing. All I can say is this: the experience of watching Lady Bird trample her way into adulthood, struggling with her own identity and taking down everyone around her in the process is a good as it gets. Go see it if you can.
I saw Lady Bird at a screening put on by the Sackville Film Society at the Vogue. Check them both out on Facebook for weekly screening information.