Lady Bird (2017) Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
When Lady Bird said Sacramento is the Midwest of California, I felt that. Not because I harness the sentiment now, but I did during my teen years and all through college. It seemed to be a place where I assumed my soul would die. Lady Bird is sure of this too. She burns her angst through her mother’s ears—as soon as we get acquainted with her and learn her name, and that is also when we learn that her name is not her name. She was born Christine, but is now Lady Bird, the name she’s given to herself. And damnit, wouldn’t life be sweet if her mother (Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf) acknowledged this like she promised? Wouldn’t it be even better if she could turn the radio on and listen to music on the road home from a college tour without her mother nagging her? Why can’t the good moments turn into good days with her?
We gather all of this within the first five minutes of the 2017 protagonist titled film. There are no tricks and hidden plots. Lady Bird is genuine and true from the start—both film and character wise. So rarely do we see films like this. Limited on the pleasantries with an unlikable young female protagonist you can’t help but love. You see yourself in her, as much as you hate to admit it. We as the audience know our inner ugliness. How many of us actually roar it out after being called a monster? Or write a list of all the things our parents have spent on us so we can pay them back and never speak to them again? Not me, my mama does not play that. And if I ever did pull a Lady Bird on her, I’d surely be writing you all from a six-foot ditch. It takes a special breed to be that free. Yet, we can all identify with the need to find ourselves and wear different skins based on who we’re with. As Saoirse Ronan said during a recent interview at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), “One of the things Lady Bird made me aware of was that there is such a pressure to be yourself and be who you are and it has to be this solid thing that doesn’t shift, but it always does…Lady Bird’s like, ‘I’m going to say what I mean, even if I don’t mean it.’”
I do not know a more witty, smart, clear and well-paced film on girlhood than Lady Bird. The editing is so gentle and genius. Transitions feel folded into the story with such grace, you can’t locate the seams. Not one word of dialogue is wasted or unbelievable. Casting is superb. Saoirse has a magnetism to her. I’ve never been disappointed to see her in anything she stars in. This is a girl who knows her characters well and has fun diving inside of them. Timothee Chalamet stole my free time with his role in this movie. Lady Bird was my introduction to him. Believe me when I say I googled him for two weeks straight reading and watching every interview he’s ever given while simultaneously viewing his entire filmography. We are very lucky to have an actor like him in these times—and even luckier for the creative trifecta he makes up with Greta and Saoirse. This combination is stunning in 2019’s Little Women and I’m eager to see what other projects the future might bring.
Anyway, where was I? See what happens when I talk about Timothee?
Oh, yes…the other elements of the film! Every effort placed into this body of work makes Lady Bird what it is. Lighting is soft and intentional. Colors are set from an organized palette, along with the costumes. They work with the lighting and film grain to emphasize the nostalgia of 2002 (Greta wanted the entire movie to appear like photos she and her friends would have developed from disposable cameras) and the contrast between whimsical pink naivete and practical grown blue. Everything adult/serious is blue: Marion’s car and her scrubs, her husband’s shirts, Lady Bird’s uniform. While Lady Bird’s immaturity is depicted in her pink hair, cast and walls. It’s hard to say if this was intentionally placed in scenes, but harder to believe it’s not when pink reads to Marion as an insult. She questions where Lady Bird got ‘this (pink) sweater’ as she comforts her in one scene and encourages her to go for a more mature blue dress for prom when Lady Bird opts for a romantic pink gown. It’s as blatant as Hook vs. Pan and the concept of adults being pirates so void of joy, they’ve forgotten how to fly. That’s where things are driven full circle. Greta shows just how Lady Bird and her mother are alike right under your nose. You can’t help but wonder by the end, what was it that took her own whimsical pink naivete away?
Whatever the culprit was, enough whimsy remained to pass down to her daughter, a thornier rose with enough bite to ensure her own is never stolen.