Greta Gerwig’s debut as a director has caught the imagination of a wide range of film fans. It is an autobiographical coming-of-age movie, set around the time of graduation from high school so appeals to young people but it contains the most truthful representation of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships that you are ever likely to see on screen. So if you are a mother or a daughter or both, of lived with such a relationship, you will learn and enjoy. Gerwig and the two actors who play the mother and daughter, Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf all won Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. It had a 100% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes until someone wrote a less than fulsome one and knocked it down to 99%.
Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new directorial voice, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, Lady Bird is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home.
The struggle between homely familiarity and big-city sophistication, clinging parent and spirited child, is familiar to the point of cliché. But the film’s light touch, and the affectionate sparring of Ronan and Metcalf, gives everything the smell of fresh laundry. Gerwig is known primarily as an actor, though she has shown a gift all along for writing candid, twitchy comedy, first in the ‘mumblecore’ genre (no-budget DIY rom-coms) and then with her partner, the director Noah Baumbach, on Frances Ha and Mistress America. In those films she riffed on her kooky persona, but more importantly she prioritised stories of female friendship over the usual boy-meets-girl narratives. That continues here. The men in Lady Bird, including Christine’s depressed father (Tracy Letts), are sharply drawn, but the clinching moments all involve women negotiating conflicts between their own ambitions and the value of loyalty to one another. Gerwig dramatises this most beautifully in a simple, wrenching shot near the end of the film: the camera is fixed on Marion as she wrestles with her conscience, the oblivious sun beating down on her face.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall