Film Review: Lady Bird (USA, 2017) is the most tender and genuine coming-of-age story in years

There’s something incredibly sweet about Lady Bird, without having the film push into over-sentimental territory. That in itself is a remarkable achievement for Greta Gerwig, who in her directorial debut has turned in an endearing and sincere coming-of-age story that, although quite monotone, springs to life with particularly powerful performances from two female actors of very different generations. As director and writer, Gerwig is at her observant best, penning what is seemingly a tender love letter addressed to both her parents and her hometown of Sacramento, but in doing so is careful to present characters which are complex and naturalistic enough so audiences around the world can find something they relate to, irrespective of gender.

Gerwig, rightfully cited as a much more thoughtful and witty Lena Dunham, is able to move away from an overdramatic narrative and boil teenage angst down to its most essential form. That angst is embodied by wistful teenager Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) who insists on being called “Lady Bird” so Gerwig can give a nice, elegant metaphor for the tension between ones own fantastical, yearning ego and their limiting reality. It works quite brilliantly, with Ronan thoroughly impressive in the role as she highlights the tragedy of wanting more, wanting to fit in, and wanting to get away.

Lady Bird presents as your stereotypical naïve teenager trying desperately to fit into various ideals, most of which are in direct conflict with her middle-class life, but she engages in these tropes with nuance and sympathy in between fits of your typical arrogant, rebellious type. Black comedies would be nothing without a deeper, more self-reflexive approach and that’s exactly what makes the protagonist – seemingly a stand-in for Gerwig herself – such a strong-willed, likeable character even when she’s punishing her parents for her own ideals.

The other half of the strongest equation here is Laurie Metcalf as Christine’s loving mother, playing opposite both Lady Bird and her father (the brilliant Tracy Letts) with the same kind of strength and sympathy that mirrors her on-screen daughter’s traits, just in a more matured form. Though Gerwig has clearly put much thought and respect into all the characters in her film, it is these two that fuel Lady Bird’s best moments, both of which are genuinely heartfelt and aggressively tense.

Christine’s yearning for something bigger than herself, and something which distinguishes her from her parents, is at times painful to watch, and both cathartic and joyful at the same time; Gerwig evokes genuine emotion from her audience that culminates in a string of the film’s strongest scenes, played across different timelines to great effect. It’s this level of self-examination that completely distinguishes Lady Bird, despite it’s coming-of-age tropes.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Lady Bird will be released in Australian cinemas from Thursday 15th February