This tender and funny feature from Greta Gerwig moves beyond the familiar coming-of-age setup to be a moving portrait of the intimate ties we have with place
There’s an early scene in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut that establishes her protagonist's desire for escape. Christine "Lady Bird" McPhearson (Ronan) – Lady Bird is in quotation marks because, we’re told, it’s her given name, "I gave it to myself. It's given to me, by me" – and her mother, Marion (Metcalf), are driving home after visiting local colleges, weeping in unison to the end of The Grapes of Wrath on audiotape. As soon as the cassette is packed away mother and daughter begin to argue about Lady Bird’s intention to go to liberal arts school on the East Coast; an argument that abruptly ends when Lady Bird unexpectedly throws herself from the moving car.
Gerwig has been a vibrant presence on America’s indie film scene for a decade, co-writing and co-directing a number of independent features, but it was her collaboration with Noah Baumbach on Frances Ha – the tale of a young woman from California trying to make it as a dancer in Brooklyn – which placed her firmly in the spotlight. Set in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento during the early noughties, Lady Bird could be described as an unintended prequel to Baumbach’s film, with Gerwig’s distinct brand of clunky self-awareness central to her lead character.
Often stories about those awkward, self-destructive years are implicitly autobiographical, but Lady Bird feels like a film that draws on this tradition to create something more grounded in its environment. Gerwig doesn’t rely on vast landscape shots to capture a sense of place, instead concentrating on how Lady Bird interacts with her surroundings. She’s impulsive, stubborn and hot-blooded, and the film is littered with moments of tenderness undercut by random acts of rebellion. However, when she does eventually escape to New York she begins to reconcile her feelings for home. It’s here that Gerwig’s film moves beyond a traditional coming-of-age ‘lessons learned’ conclusion, into rather a moving portrait of the intimate ties we have with place. [Patrick Gamble]
Released by Universal