Like Mother, Like Daughter (Film Review: “Lady Bird”)

A minor masterpiece which captures the mother-daughter dance of blurred and belligerent boundaries, and a film which puts Greta Gerwig squarely on the map as among her generation’s most gifted filmmakers.

SnapShot Plot

With the recent awards season success of Greta Gerwig’s latest picture (a more Feminist retelling of the classic novel Little Women and an ensemble cast led by Saoirse Ronan as Jo March) perhaps its fitting to look back at the 2017 film which cemented Gerwig’s place as one of Hollywood’s up and coming writer/directors, the beautifully imagined coming-of-age movie, Lady Bird. Again starring a luminous, irreverent and translucent Saoirse Ronan (who many see as the muse apparent to Gerwig’s burgeoning filmography), Lady Bird is the story of a high school senior at a Catholic girls’ school in Sacramento who desperately wants to individuate from her strong-willed and critical mother, played to utter perfection by Laurie Metcalfe.

Ronan’s depiction of Lady Bird (a name she’s given herself and by which she insists everyone address her, although its origin remains a mystery) is such a hat trick of nuanced normalcy as to belie the craft that went into the creation of this title character. Lady Bird so desires to be daring and different, and to break out of her suburban comfort zone – in her estimation Sacramento is a sad cultural wasteland – that she stubbornly clings to her vague manifesto of rebellion even when we can plainly see that deep inside it’s a stretch but she’d never admit it. Her relationship to her mother Marion, a nurse at a psychiatric hospital, is a complex jigsaw puzzle of approach-avoidance, a passive-aggressive minefield that turns on a dime and to an outside observer flashes between intimate and estranged at dizzying speeds. In other words, they couldn’t be more alike or more different. . . and it’s precisely this familial conundrum that beats so honestly at the heart of the story.

In this, Lady Bird’s penultimate year before the unknown horizon of college takes shape, she pushes back against the constraints of home, family, and the Church, thrusting herself into relationships and experiences she hopes will prepare her for the smart, East Coast future she’s convinced lies ahead for her. How much of her ambition is posturing and prayers, and how much is based on real talent and potential remains to be seen.

Parting Shot

Greta Gerwig has acted in and co-written many fine films in recent years (Frances Ha; Greenberg; 20th Century Women; Jackie; et al) and is also famous for her real-life collaboration with her partner of almost 10 years, the fine filmmaker Noah Baumbach. But Lady Bird was her first directorial effort, dazzling for her patient and knowing handling of Life’s small moments, the stuff of which true character and emotion spring. Gerwig has bristled at the suggestion that the script for Lady Bird was mostly an autobiographical project; despite having been raised in Sacramento and having attended a Catholic girls’school herself, she maintains the characters and the story are wholly distilled from her imagination. To me, the distinction is secondary to the overriding fact of this picture. Whether one can relate to a high school girl’s teenaged angst or her complex relationship with a mostly admonishing mother, what everyone can relate to is the truth behind the small, perfectly mined moments of life on the screen. This is what resonates. This is what ultimately nourishes. Lady Bird is the kind of film which first enters your brain, mapping out this young girl’s small town life in surprisingly intimate detail, and before you know it, it’s whispering in your heart about the things that really matter, such as how the simple act of paying attention can be akin to love.

Lady Bird is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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