At their worst, coming of age movies are fraught with the over-egging of bludgeoning teenage antics that make their journeys seem severely unremarkable, as maddening hysterics are favoured over sobering personal growth. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, commendably bridges the gap with effortless ease. The picture captures the teenage experience in all its endearing and frustrating dimension.
Lady Bird refers to the given name that Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) gives herself. On the cusp of going to college, Christine attempts to deal with the increasingly mounting pressures of the opposite sex, college funding, the ever-morphing social hierarchy of her Catholic high school and a turbulent relationship with her mother- Marion (Laurie Metcalf).
Ronan plays Christine with a delicate balance of brash assuredness and honest acknowledgement. She often portrays the volatile nature of the character with an air of sympathy, most evident in some of the film’s most tumultuous sequences. In many ways, Lady Bird’s external confidence has ripples of Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer from Rushmore (1998), insofar as being a character who can be equally wise and frustrating in the same moment with their intelligence being wielded for insight and mockery.
Laurie Metcalf is equally as potent with her counter-intuitive performance. Rather than play Marion as the adoring mother, Metcalf allows for the moments of sheer frustration to be brought to the fore.
In her direction, Greta Gerwig achieves a delicate balance between illustrating the sheer fast and dizzying nature of growing up with the sobering reality of adulthood. The first half is edited with the quickness and efficiency of a Jazz drum solo as moments abruptly end and intersect. While the effect is showcasing how mere moments pass us by like the sand going through an hourglass, the editing is often employed for comedic effect. One particularly humorous scene homages Orson Welles’ famous opera scene from Citizen Kane with a quick succession of the adults’ facial expressions reacting to a school play. In the second half, the camera lingers like a distant observer as many of the characters’ private moments are revealed to the audience.
With the cinematic approach of the second half, Gerwig illustrates that Lady Bird’s character arc is of overcoming self-absorption and ultimately acknowledging people’s struggles in life. In a broader sense, this aspect is irrevocably tied to the personal shame of her hometown, which she gains a greater sense of pride about in the film’s closing moments. Lady Bird’s great virtue is that it’s made with a sense of humbleness that never fails to feel personal and universal.