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Categories: Movie Reviews

Matthew Wilson previews award season favourite Lady Bird to find out whether it’s worth the hype and finds career-best work as well as a few more surprises.

As divisive as Rotten Tomatoes has become, it’s hard to ignore Lady Bird beating the record for most positive reviews to remain at 100%. (164 positives beating Toy Story 3’s previous record of 163.) Whether the reviews are too high or not is an argument for another day. For the moment, this can definitely stand out as one of 2017’s stronger offerings with career highlights from writer/director Greta Gerwig and star Saoirse Ronan.

Set in Sacramento California 2002, the film follows Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) in her final months of high school before college. While Christine wants to get away to study the liberal arts in New York, her parents (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts) can’t afford to send her after her father is laid off.

With her grades not the best, Christine decides on some extra-curricular activities to look better on her financial aid application and takes up Theatre with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) where she meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), an aspiring actor who takes a liking to Christine. However, the theatre group also leads Christine to a whole new realm of popularity. Taking the escape from arguing with her parents, Christine follows the crowd and enters some of the most important events of her young life.

While there is something of an overarching plot in Christine’s attempts to get into college, for the most part the film takes on a slightly episodic approach. With Christine experiencing little moments of life with only a slight connection between them. The result is a film that manages to captures those defining moments while being equal parts confusing, turbulent and joyous.

While Christine is the primary focus, with her mother Marion taking the main supporting role, the film is filled with a number of diverse people. Her father, Larry, is an old man in a young world. Having lost his job, and battling depression, he still manages to help his daughter. Christine’s adopted brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) is going through a Goth phase with his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) and doesn’t take kindly to Christine mocking him at every turn.

When it comes to Christine’s mother, Marion, the film uses a clear focus on balance to show the character through the eyes of her and her daughter.

To Christine, she’s judgemental and can’t help but snap at everything she does. However, to Marion. she’s a hard-working wife and mother struggling to keep the family afloat. And the beauty is, both views of the character are right and Metcalf captures that quite wonderfully. She’s not a perfect character but she has so much responsibility, and stress, that of course she’s not going to have it all together. It’s the small moments of peace she and Christine find together that makes their difficult relationship feel all the more genuine.

What’s key is that Christine, in general, is not likeable. She’s actually quite horrible at points; lying, stealing, arguing, actively rebelling for the sake of being different. And yet I never found myself hating her. Ronan was key to making sure that Christine’s immaturity shone through, not her unlikability, allowing her to still redeem the character and endear us to her.

Greta Gerwig has been a name on the indie circuit for a while as an actress and writer but now she’s showing herself as a solid director as well. Obviously, with a film like this, the writing is one of the main reasons to see it. I have to imagine the film is partially autobiographical but it adds some realism to the whole thing. Moments that are just absurd enough that they couldn’t have been made up.

Where Gerwig shines is on her ability to defy convention. Coming-of-Age films are nothing new but she injects something quite special into this one, not always going the way you expect. Nowhere is this clearer than in Christine and Marion’s relationship and it’s why the more episodic approach works out better. Because there’s no clear arc between them, Marion struggles to understand the phase into adulthood her daughter is going through and Christine doesn’t (or won’t) understand what her mother gave up to ensure the family survived.

Even by the end, there’s not a clear cut resolution to how the two of them interact but there’s room for evolution. That’s an impressive level of commitment in your audience to understand that relationships are never-ending. 

In a time when Coming-of-Age movies have been quite strong over the past few years, Lady Bird is a standout. It’s not the masterpiece that Rotten Tomatoes would indicate but Gerwig has brought out something charming, harsh, funny and rough that all comes together for one of the best representations of teenage life in recent memory.

Lady Bird is out now in US cinemas and will be released in UK cinemas on February 16th

Matthew Wilson

Operating out of Livingston, Scotland, Matthew Wilson has been self-publishing reviews since 2012 - amassing over 1000 and climbing on his personal account at MovieFanCentral- and has produced a number of short films for his Graded Unit at Edinburgh College. Matthew hopes to start writing and directing his own productions one day, having written several unpublished scripts for film and television.

Posted on Jan 11, 2018

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