Welcome to the review of the best tomato (once) in the movie business. This is Lady Bird.
IMDb summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.
Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig – an actress-turned-writer, now also a director (this film was her directorial debut). The ‘tomato’ line in the opening of this review, of course, refers to the fact that this movie was once the best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes (it has now fallen to 99% from the initial 100%). While it was certainly a great film, I, personally, didn’t think that it was as unique or out of the ordinary as everyone hailed it to be (spoiler alert: I think I change my mind by the end of this review).
Lady Bird’s story was a personal coming of age tale. While some of the details of the plot were very interesting and quite extraordinary, at its core, the movie’s plot was quite conventional. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nowadays, very rarely do we see completely original films. Likewise, movies that take something familiar and update it (like Lady Bird did) are rare too and should be celebrated! Still, I don’t think that they should be over-complimented just to make a statement.
Anyways, by being a coming of age tale, Lady Bird mostly focused on the perils of growing up and maturing. It looked at high-school drama but not in a cheesy way: the school/friend/boyfriend problems were treated with utmost importance, as they would be regarded from a teenage girl’s perspective when one’s whole life is high school. Those scenes felt really heartfelt rather than cheap and shallow, even if some of them were intended to be humorous (like, the theatre activities that were so fun to watch). I also appreciated how real the scenes looked – Lady Bird’s reaction to her first kiss was just perfect and highly relatable. A few of the scenes were a bit cringe-y as well but that was also very true to a life of a teenager.
Thematically, the movie: hinted at exploration of sexuality; looked at the experience of having a crush on a teacher; explored ideas relating to one’s identity (rebelling, trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’, realizing who you really are, etc.); examined friendship and relationships (first steps into dating), and suggested ideas relating to potential mental illnesses. Basically, the movie covered all the grounds of teenage experience through either the main or the supporting characters.
A crucial part of coming of age for everyone has always been one’s relationship with their parents. Lady Bird mostly centered on the mother-daughter relationship and explored it quite successfully. However, I have seen this movie celebrated for showing the mother’s perspective – I, personally, didn’t think that the mother character had nearly enough scenes, especially, solo ones, to truly say that this movie treated her POV as equal to her daughter’s POV. Anyways, I still believe that the relationship itself (when not arguing about the POVs) was portrayed extremely well: as both passive aggressive but, ultimately, loving. Essentially, a mirror image of me and my mom 7-8 years ago. I also really loved the film’s message that love is attention – that was quite a heartwarming takeaway for the viewers.
The movie also explored the importance of a location of one’s youth. For Gerwig herself and for Christine that was Sacramento. A lovely but maybe overtly idyllic place, which certainly was far from the worst place in America, but, I guess to each their own. The film, ultimately, was either intentional or unintentional love letter to Sacramento, California. Another autobiographical aspect of Lady Bird’s story was the character’s somewhat religious upbringing. The whole idea of a Catholic school seemed quite bizarre to me but I did appreciate the fact that the movie noted that religion is not something one can be forced into but, rather, something that a person has to discover by themselves (as Christine rediscovered it in college, when she had the freedom of choice).
I highly enjoyed the visualization of the teenage experience in this film, which mostly occurred through the costumes and the set design. The uniqueness of the main character was perfectly portrayed through her hair and the changes she made to the uniform. I also loved the thrifting scenes: they not only showed her unique style but captured her family’s station in life too (and stressed the importance of keeping up the image even in poverty). I also loved Lady Bird’s room: it looked so eclectic and really reminded me of my bedroom as a teenager. The scenes of her painting over all the things on her walls really signaled her growth. I’m older than Lady Bird was supposed to be in this film and I’m definitely not even close to that stage in life, as my bedroom walls’ look even messier and more confused than they did when I was a teen. Another signal of the character’s growth was her decision to change her name back to Christine. And yet, the movie also ended ambiguously and noted that she still has a lot of work to do on her identity, as she still lied about where she was from and wasn’t yet fully comfortable with who she is/was. Are we ever really are?
On a final note, Lady Bird was a fairly slow movie but it was also really short – one of the shortest awards movies for sure. I sometimes really appreciate films that manage to tell tight stories and to say everything they need to say in 90 minutes without making the pictures themselves feel rushed. And Lady Bird definitely did that!
Saoirse Ronan was delightful to watch in the film and I completely bought her as a teenager. Her American accent was also extremely convincing. I also loved the overall deep emotional quality of her performance: she didn’t have a lot of flashy scenes but she didn’t need them to be absolutely brilliant in the picture. Her involvement in this movie also made me recall another coming of age tale of hers – Brooklyn– through the character in that picture was completely different (Ronan certainly has the range).
Laurie Metcalf played Christine’s mother and did a great job. Her performance was ‘quietly good’ rather than super explosive, like Janney’s one in I, Tonya. I believe that Metcalf will be unfairly overlooked in the supporting actress category due to the quietness or the subtlety of her performance, when being evaluated against more ‘out there’ performances like Janney’s, a.k.a. I don’t think her nomination will lead to a win.
On the supporting front, the two love interests of the titular character were played by two young actors, who are already awards’ voters’ favorites (and deservedly so). Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea last year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year) had a small role in this film, while Timothee Chalamet (the breakout star from Call Me By Your Name) was also on the cast list and proved that he can play a heterosexual romantic lead as well as a homosexual one.
In short, I started this review with a statement that I didn’t think that Lady Bird was that exceptional but I do think that I fell in love with this movie all over again by writing the paragraphs that followed the said statement. And I’m not going to change the intro declaration because this review, like Lady Bird’s and all our lives, are all works in progress.
Trailer: Lady Bird trailer