In general, I’m not a fan of those ‘slice of life’ films – you know, films which focus on a characters or group and meander through some aimless part of life in the hope that we’ll be endeared enough to care. Which is strange, because I love coming of age films which are a very similar strain of the same idea. Lady Bird falls somewhere in between these, following roughly a year in a teenage girl’s life at that transitional period between school and whatever comes next. The film is up for a bunch of Oscars, looks certain to win at least one, but how does it differ from others of its ilk…. and is it any good?
These films often succeed or fail based on the quality of writing, of whether we accept and enjoy the characters, and the performances. There are two central performances here – Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen who we follow through the adventures of being an outcast, looking for a boyfriend, looking for purpose, and Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Metcalf has been doing the whole world weary thing for a while now, and here she is particularly embittered towards a daughter who doesn’t appear to deserve any of the criticism. The relationship between the mother and daughter has been highlighted as one of the pluses of the film, but it’s actually fairly vague and undefined – at moments they appear to be head of heels besties, at other times they seem to genuinely despise each other. There’s no doubting the caliber of the performances, but Oscar worthy? I guess that’s what passes for such these days. I like the performances, but I’m just not as wowed by them as I expect to be when so many plaudits are attached.
Lady Bird, or Christine, is your typical precocious teen, appearing at once wise and naive. There’s little of the quirks of Juno yet plenty of similar behaviour, though many of the antics will be familiar to many of those watching. I couldn’t help recall my final year of school – the stress of exams, the desire for a girlfriend, the need of friends, of freedom etc. It’s clear Gerwig was drawing from her own, universal experiences, and doesn’t allow the script to get bogged down by being too personal. In essence, Lady Bird isn’t going to be someone you will mind spending 90 minutes or so with, and her surrounding characters embellish proceedings nicely. There’s a wider family group, essentially there for comic relief, though her father, played by Tracy Letts gets special mention for a constant sympathetic ear. Gerwig does create a fully realized world – even though the focus is on Lady Bird, we understand the struggles of her parents – the pain and stress they are going through, and the fact that Lady Bird’s peers are surely going through similar issues as she is. The dialogue never becomes too affected and while it’s rooted in the early noughties it also achieves a universal, dateless quality. To be honest, I think I need to watch the film a second time to watch specifically for direction – everything was fluid, but on the surface it felt like the director was anonymous or that it could have been anyone pulling the strings.
There are some light laughs, what heartache or tragedy there may be is slight, marking this as a soft, warm drama which doesn’t really go anywhere but is perfectly content in relating these few months of activity for us. I was thoroughly on board and comfortable within the first five minutes, after ten I was won over, but by the end of the film I couldn’t help but think that it didn’t live up to whatever expectations it had given me in those opening minutes. Nevertheless, if the film is to win a number of Oscars I would hardly complain – at the time of writing I’ve only seen this, Dunkirk, and Get Out out of the big Oscar hitters and have enjoyed them all roughly equally – like the other two I’ve seen, Lady Bird is not without its flaws and I doubt I’d need to see it again. It’s no Kings Of Summer, it’s no Lucas, but maybe being Lady Bird is all it needs to be.
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lady Bird and if you think it deserves the acclaim it has, and will continue to receive!