As the lights came down in the cinema, I suddenly became aware of the spectacular burden I had placed on Lady Bird. To say I was excited to see this film would be a colossal understatement. A female coming-of-age drama, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, who previously helped bring the exquisite Frances Ha to life, Lady Bird has a lot to live up to.
And yet, Lady Bird somehow managed to surpass all of my expectations.
The film follows Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) in her senior year of high school. Gerwig weaves individual moments into an all-encompassing tapestry of impeccably written, yet seemingly effortless storytelling. Her ability to capture human emotions is shockingly profound. It is so acutely moving that I’ve been reeling for days, unable to think of enough superlatives to fill this review.
Female coming-of-age dramas are as rare on the page as they are on the screen, and depictions of girls growing up are often romantic comedies, focused on their evolution in the context of teenage boys.
Gerwig, however, makes it clear that the boy Lady Bird loses her virginity to is nothing compared to her best friend, or her parents, for whom her love is everlasting. These are the relationships that define you, not the guy you used to think was cool.
It’s glaringly obvious that Lady Bird is written by a woman, because the women in it are real people, vivid and complex, with their own hopes and aspirations, not reduced to martyrs for male pain.
Lady Bird paints a picture of female adolescence which girls can recognise themselves in. Ambitious yet insecure, considerate yet selfish, Lady Bird embodies the teenage girl’s every contradiction.
But it is not only in its characterisation of the protagonist that Lady Bird flourishes. Every frame drips with compassion; each character it touches reveals some extraordinary or agonizing piece of themselves – the pretentious rich boy whose dad has cancer, or the drama teacher whose son died. Each morsel makes them sparkle, until the whole screen is positively glowing with empathy.
Most importantly, Lady Bird is a love letter to mothers from their daughters, offering an unparalleled, agonizing view of a beautifully complex relationship. Laurie Metcalf’s turn as Lady Bird’s stubborn, devoted mother is masterful. There are moments of dialogue within the film which echo, word-for-word, conversations I have had with my own mother. The friction between them, which can only come from a place of love, is captured so immaculately that it becomes completely mesmerising.
In one of the most touching scenes of the film, Lady Bird is dropped at the airport by her parents as she leaves for college. Her mother, blinded by pride, refuses to get out of the car to say goodbye. As she drives off, she suddenly realises it’s her last chance to tell her daughter how she really feels before Lady Bird is halfway across the country. At that moment, crying uncontrollably, I turned to my mother sitting next to me, whose eyes were also brimming with tears.
The mother-daughter relationship has long been cast aside in film, but Gerwig proves that there is a world of stories waiting to be told, and that female relationships are just as engaging as male ones.
Lady Bird’s final year of school is all about realisation. She finally understands the immense sacrifice her parents have made for her. She sees who truly cares about her in beautiful clarity. Though she spends most of the film bemoaning her hometown’s dullness, it seems just as Christine understands how beautiful Sacramento, really is, she has to leave.
I want to say that Lady Bird’s status as a modern masterpiece is unassailable. Its wide critical acclaim would support such a bold statement. But I wonder if perhaps I am just so overwhelmed by finally seeing my own life experiences and family on screen, in all their brilliance, that I cannot help but fall in love with Lady Bird.