Awkwardly wonderful

by Martin McNamara
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ANYONE who spent their formative years navigating the awkward fashions and questionable music of the early millennium will find some instant kinship in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut.

Fortunately, Lady Bird (Cert 15A, 94 mins) is such an utterly endearing coming-of-age tale, anybody who’s outmanoeuvred the choppy waters of adolescence will find something to love in this charming comedic drama.

That something, above all else, is “Lady Bird” herself – the Sacramento, California high school student whose story is based on Gerwig’s own teenage years, brought to life with the magnetism and burgeoning talent of Saoirse Ronan.

Gerwig’s first effort is a lovingly crafted film, bearing all the notes of her co-writing work with director Noah Baumbach – hard evidence of an auteur at work.
Christine McPherson, senior student at a Catholic high school, prefers to go by “Lady Bird” – her ‘given’ name (“she gave it to herself”).

Struggling to maintain a strained relationship with her headstrong mother (Laurie Metcalf), Lady Bird navigates her first romantic relationship, the tribulations of her high school’s social hierarchy and stages optimistic plans for her future – plans her mother considers unrealistic and, given her father’s (Tracy Letts) recent redundancy, unaffordable.

Lady Bird takes its cues from the same cinematic pool as most American coming-of-age stories: Christine wanders from phase to phase, learns who her friends are, gets in trouble, drinks, smokes, fights and falls in and out of love.

These are tropes and plot points we’ve seen time and time again, but instead of feeling tired, the narrative in Lady Bird oozes a comfortable, homespun familiarity.
Gerwig documents the era perfectly, rendering each familiar beat remarkably fresh. She creates a world both personal and universal, and Ronan pulls us right into it.

Everything about adolescence is awful for Lady Bird – she doesn’t have the ‘right’ friends, can’t find the ‘right’ guy and doesn’t seem set to go to the ‘right’ colleges.
Yet with Ronan’s vibrant, wonderfully natural performance, Lady Bird’s story breathes out a tremendous optimism.

In and around all her highs and lows, Ronan’s performance has a loveably awkward warmth and precise comedic timing that brings to mind Gerwig’s own turns in front of the camera.
Gerwig juxtaposes the very real (at the time) dramas of adolescence with moments of heartfelt comedy and Ronan ties it all together with a command of the craft that even now, a decade into her career, is profound for an actor her age.

Outwardly confident and yet utterly vulnerable; heedless, irrational and yet wise beyond her years, Lady Bird radiates a warmth we can’t help but cling to.
However, it’d be unfair to insinuate that Ronan carries Lady Bird. Metcalfe delivers a superb performance as Christine’s mother; the scenes in which they clash are some of the film’s most devastating and poignant.

Relative newcomer Lucas Hedges builds on all the promise and natural aptitude he demonstrated in last year’s Manchester by the Sea and, as her best friend, newcomer Beanie Feldstein delivers one hell of a break-out performance.

Speaking of break-outs, Gerwig’s first turn behind the camera further cements her as a force to be reckoned with in contemporary cinema.

At its heart, Lady Bird is her story, and there isn’t a frame here that doesn’t feel deeply personal. Lady Bird may hit familiar beats, but there’s nothing trite about Gerwig’s film – a short, sweet story that flows naturally, feels effortless and provides the perfect space for its burgeoning star to demonstrate her skill.
Verdict: 9/10

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