Lady Bird sounds like a coming-of-age film we’ve seen too many times. A girl stuck in a city she wants to leave for good, sulking about her difficult relationship with her mother. However, directing debutant Greta Gerwig tells this old tale with a sweet honesty we’ve rarely experienced on the silver screen. Greta is able to do that with such honesty and guts – and yes, the occasional, annoying tweeness – because this story, out in UK theatres from 23rd February, is her own.
That strenuous, lacerating feeling of being sawed in half is one that anyone who has ever wanted to move out of a suffocating place knows very well. Gerwig not only knows it but she owns this narrative. She opened up her heart and fed it to the audience, delivering one of the best films of 2017, awarded with two Golden Globes, one for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and one to Saoirse Ronan, who plays the title role.
The city is Sacramento, hometown to Gerwig and capital of the state of California. If you’re now wondering “Wait, what?” you’re not alone. Sacramento is a rather small, pretty boring place pink-haired, Catholic school senior Christine aka Lady Bird (Ronan) is looking forward to leaving for good, hoping to move to the East Coast college her family can’t afford.
The film is set in 2002, at the beginning of the economic crisis, Lady Bird’s father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job and competes for a new one with people half his age. That same economic crisis will bring the country to its knees in five years’ time, smashing the last outpost of the American dream.
Right before the opening scene, a quote from journalist and writer Joan Didion reminds us that what we’re about to see is a very different take on the Californian myth: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Only a Sacramentan like Didion could use sarcasm while still sounding softened by her native city. Only a Sacramentan like Gerwig could embrace these mixed feelings and process her visual journey back to her hometown with anger, grace and gratitude.
Gratitude pervades this opera prima, although hidden under layers of pretentiousness and arrogance, that kind of annoying bravado only a smart teenager with big ambitions can show off.