“The Rite of Passage to Adulthood” is full of pitfalls for every adolescent, which is why the topic makes for a great story we can all relate to.
In Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school senior “from the wrong side of the tracks” making her way through the final year at a Catholic girl’s school.
Lady Bird tells people the wrong side of the tracks is where she lives, and she means it in a literal and a metaphorical sense. She DOES live on the poor side of the railway tracks that divide her home town of Sacramento in Northern California. But she also feels like she is from the wrong side of the tracks because she doesn’t fit in, and hey, it’s a teen’s idea of a romantic thing to say to people when you’re introducing yourself.
Her parents just scrape by with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) working double shifts at the local Psych ward, while her father Larry (Tracy Letts) has recently been laid off from his job in IT. Her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly also live at the modest but neat home where Lady Bird has a pink bedroom emblazoned with arty thoughts on the walls.
It’s 2002 and Lady Bird has her sights set on college in New York. Hell she has her sights set on ANYWHERE that isn’t Sacramento.
To get there she needs to lift her grades, participate in the school play, make a new gang of friends and lose her virginity.
All the typical things many of us go through, and obsess over, in later teenage years.
She falls for Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges who also pops up in the Best Picture nominee Three Billboards…) when they perform in the school play together and they do all the typical first serious relationship things together, except that Danny won’t touch Lady Bird’s boobs because “he has too much respect for her”.
Lady Bird’s biggest struggle is finding acceptance with her Mum.
The film opens with them returning from a cross country trip to scout out colleges, having listened to an audio book of The Grapes of Wrath for twenty-one hours and five minutes.
Lady Bird says to her mother “I wish I could live through something”, and her mum remonstrates her for not being grateful for the life she already has.
Despite their meagre income and modest lifestyle, Lady Bird’s parents make sacrifices to send her to Immaculate Heart because her brother saw somebody get knifed at the local public school.
Ashamed that she cannot offer more, her Mum is sensitive about trying to provide her daughter with the best life she can, but for Lady Bird it is not enough – she wants to go somewhere with culture to which her mum replies “How did I raise such a snob?”
The clash of wills between mother and daughter at the start of the film is the key thread throughout the story and is played so authentically that the friction between the pair delivers many of the poignant emotional scenes Lady Bird has to offer.
Whether it’s over how the eggs are cooked at breakfast or what dress fits best, there is an undercurrent of energy always crackling between the two women.
It is a low-key film devoid of car accidents or special effects. It’s a person’s life story on a plate, perfectly performed by wonderful actors who relish the roles and dialogue they have to work with.
Even the detail of the 2002 era fashion is spot on. Danny wears super baggy clothes and sports a white shell necklace while Lady Bird shops at the Thrift Mart. The attention to detail of the times and of the characters’ worlds carries over into every scene. At a party a kid in the background stands staring motionlessly into a open fridge. A boy fumbles with a condom and has the whole climactic event over almost before it begins. Driving tests, exams, school formals, pranks, all the essential details of teenage-hood are present and accurately portrayed. We’ve all been there.
Gerwig has said she wanted or create a female counterpart to Boyhood and she has absolutely nailed it.
At the 90th Academy Awards, the film earned five nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress for Ronan, Best Supporting Actress for Metcalf, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director; making Gerwig the fifth woman to earn a Best Director nomination.
Of all the Best Picture nominees I think this is my favourite.
In fact Lady Bird is “My New Favourite Film” – 5 Stars.