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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 Gerwig and 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 of 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, 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. 

Around her school there are friendly faces like best friend Julie who takes what could’ve been a typical friend role and gives it enough shy charm to be likeable. Also friendly is Danny, one of the genuine good people but even he has secrets, Christine’s discovery leads to a very sour realisation for her going forward.

Less friendly is Jenna, a popular girl constantly getting into trouble, much like Julie this could’ve been one-note but Jenna shows that there is a genuine person underneath the glamour. And then there was Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), while Julie and Jenna were both more that their archetypes, Kyle is everything wrong with his, a pretentious, war-hating, poetry-quoting douche, he’s a very annoying character but he was supposed to be, being the closest the film ever gets to a real villain.

When it comes to Christine’s mother Marion, the film uses a key focus of 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 is 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.

I’ve been a fan of Ronan for a while and I’m happy to see her getting some serious award consideration for her role as Christine. 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, I disliked her at times but I never hated her because she’s a teenager and teenagers are shallow idiots who only care about themselves. 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 – the best laugh I got was when the football coach took over from the theatre director and taught the class like a football team. 

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 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 ending 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 and there will be fights and love and hate. 

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 showings of teenage life in recent years.

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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