By Jack Dignan
Every generation has a small handful of socially relevant teen movies that will be looked upon as classics in the years to come. But within this small cluster of films, there’s usually one defining film; one that stands out from the crowd. The 80s had The Breakfast Club, the 90s had American Pie, the 00s had Mean Girls, and the 10s… well, the 10s have finally found their defining teen movie. And this movie is Lady Bird, the solo directorial debut from beloved indie actor Greta Gerwig, and wow, Gerwig has crafted something truly immaculate.
Lady Bird takes us back to Sacramento, 2002, where cell phones were being phased into the mainstream and people still put cassette tapes into cars (wild times, am I right?). The titular seventeen-year-old character of Lady Bird, also begrudgingly known as Christine (Saorise Ronan), is starting to come of age, exploring all the wonders and perils that being a teenager has to offer. She explores sex and drugs, while rebelling against everything holding her life together and experiencing high school with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
But what this film focuses on predominantly in the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). They live in a small rural house quite literally on the wrong side of some train tracks, along with Marion’s husband Larry (Tracy Letts) and their adopted son Miguel (Jordon Rodrigues). Lady Bird and Marion have a complicated relationship, butting heads as often as they revel in each other’s affection. Really, it’s because neither of them ended up being the person the other one wanted, each armed with a fierce, witty personality that fills every room they’re in and instantly creates a strong sense of conflict.
It’s warm and affectionate, but fuelled with strong emotion and deep humanity. The characters are fully realised without showing off the fact that there’s been subtle development of each and every one of them. Gerwig’s script is fast, funny and heartfelt. She finds a perfect tonal balance of humour and drama, where neither one out-weights the other and they quite often find themselves going hand in hand. A perfect moment from the trailer, featuring Lady Bird and Marion unhappily shopping for dresses, demonstrates this flawlessly.
Gerwig’s whole movie is so thematically rich and locked in realism to the point where it’s uncomfortably real in all the right ways. You’ll recognise distinct and familiar faces within a crowd of distinct and familiar faces, most likely even latching on to several of the characters presented. The film doesn’t necessarily showcase any new side of the teen movie genre that we haven’t seen before, but it does what it has so perfect that this doesn’t even feel like a flaw. It is, in my eyes, a perfect teen comedy. Or teen drama. It’s a bit of both and it works to all sorts of brilliant results.
Not a moment is wasted in this utter masterpiece of a movie, and whenever it’s going, you’ll be unable to resist. Yes, it’s a brisk 90 minutes, but every second is used effectively, and everyone on screen displays a tremendous amount of talent. Saorise Ronan has never been better, and that’s saying a lot given the fact that, at just 23, she’s managed to snatch up three Academy Award nominations. Her portrayal of Lady Bird is so genuine and so enthralling, matched by all-round terrific performances from everyone in her immediate family, including Tracy Letts as the world’s nicest dad. He’s the dad all dads aspire to be.
Lucas Hedges proves he’s got an agent to fear as one of Lady Bird’s love interests. Hedges is great in a more upbeat and humourous character than we’re normally accustomed to, especially after his appearances in Manchester by the Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but, once again, his performance is exceptional. Timothée Chalamet will certainly be a standout for all those Call Me By Your Name fans out there (myself included), but it’s Beanie Feldstein, starring in only her second major movie role, who stands out amongst the supporting cast of fellow high school students.
There’s a lot to love in Lady Bird, and love it I did. It’s a fantastically earnest and hilarious depiction of life in Sacramento; accessible for anyone who’s ever been a teenager. Gerwig’s career as an actor has gotten off to a brilliant start, but it’s her turn as a writer-director that may be the thing she’s truly remembered for, and for good reason. The bar’s set high for any film she’ll follow this up with, but I, for one, cannot wait to see what’s next.
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