Being a teenager can be tough, effectively a period of time when you have all the courage and desires of youth but none of the freedom required to make the most of this. It is also where you are defining yourself but are still bound to institutions. Such a difficult time is bound to make an individual difficult and if you think about it teenagers can be some of the most self-involved and mean individuals on the planet. They’re also survivors, scrapping out an identity, a standing in peer circles, and little moments of crazy fun. These are all truths that the film Lady Bird knows but it’s central character comes across at times as so self-involved it’s hard to really enjoy her presence. Maybe that’s honest to the slice of life mentality of the film but if you can’t make your characters likeable then at least make them compelling. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) sadly infuriates at times that I was relieved when she actually recognised one character’s pain in an instant and comforted them. We could have used a little bit more of that.
The film thought does make its characters well rounded and complex, nobody is a villain here. Everybody is just trying to play their part in life and get by. The popular kids are trying to stay cool, the adults are trying to keep it together and there are nice beats where people say something pretty important and then move on because you got to do that in life sometimes. The drama teacher doesn’t unlock a great talent in Lady Bird, he has sadness and teaching the children how to act gives him some joy. The meanest things are said by Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) but we see that she is the rock that her whole family relies upon. Is it any wonder her fears would manifest in things you shouldn’t say out of sheer frustration? We watch Lady Bird in her final year of high school, her first loves, and her applications for college and maybe her first decisions about what she truly values in life. The central relationship of the film is the one of mother and daughter but it is not the only one and they’re all enjoyable. Still I must repeat youth is not necessarily about being self-involved but unfortunately nobody told Lady Bird and you may wish her to grow up a little faster during the movie.
There is real heart and care shown by writer/director Greta Gerwig in this film. She gets the look of Sacramento at the turn of the century just right and there is interesting visual information on the screen all the time. Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy shot with an Alexa digital camera but inspired by washed out colour photos of school yearbooks from that era they went to work digitally to change the look so that the film would “Look like a memory.” Ronan chose not to cover up her acne in the film because teenagers can’t. The editing of an opening sequence quickly establishes the world of Lady Bird’s daily routine at school. There are good narrative choices throughout too, where big moments are played small and small moments are played big. There is an honesty and sincerity to Lady Bird you can’t fake, but certain teen flicks make you want to re-live high school whereas Lady Bird makes you perfectly happy to move on with your life.