The Pleasures Of Ornithology: A Review Of Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan and Director Greta Gerwig on the Lady Bird set
The coming of age film has been done time and time again; and thematically, it could be said that there's nothing new being placed on the table by the film Lady Bird. But as written and directed by indie darling Greta Gerwig, there's a fervid championing of the film based on the authentic voice and vision that Gerwig employs to relay this partly autobiographical tale. For those unfamiliar with Gerwig; she is muse and real-life girlfriend of the director Noah Baumbach, has figured in several of his films, and has several screenplays and a co-directing credit already under her belt - but this is her first full feature film, and it's put her on the map in a big way, earning the film five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay; plus a Best Actress nomination for Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), and Best Supporting Actress for Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird's mother).
A love sonnet to growing up in the cultural wasteland of Sacramento; and at its core, a heartfelt dialogue between daughter and mother, Lady Bird is at once a composite of those adolescent years of the quirky, bullheaded individual who dared to dream and be different, even if everyone at home was telling her she (or he) was mediocre, and to be realistic and grounded. Wanting to be artistic and recognized as a performer, we watch as Lady Bird heads to that first disastrous audition. Fantasizing about romantic love, we share her first kiss, first heartbreak. And in a very honest turn, we see how in wanting to belong with the 'in' set, she betrays her best friend. Sure, these are all tropes of each and every coming of age film; but it's in the authenticity of how these are all presented that the film conjures up something magical.
We laugh and empathize at her faux pas, her tragically poor choice of boyfriends, and the stubborn defiance of being her own person. She explains the Lady Bird moniker as 'the name given to me by me'; and we either recognize somebody we knew from our high school days as being our version of Lady Bird, or even see a bit of our younger selves. It's obviously all very personal for Gerwig; but part of the power of this film is how by making it so subjective, she creates something universal.
And the mother-daughter relationship is so genuine - how they snipe and belittle each other one second, and the very next second, triggered by a gesture or statement, they're hugging each other like crazy. This is the 'I love you so much I hate you sometimes' syndrome that most adolescents and parents will have experienced, and it's beautifully brought to life in this film.
Lady Bird is not some grand Hollywood film, taking on themes of global repercussions or historical significance - but it is Bird-watching of the highest order!