Of all the films in awards contention this year, Lady Bird has give the most pause for thought. I’ve had to watch it three times to let its subtleties seep in and now I think it really might win the Oscar for Best Picture. Worth a flutter, certainly.
On the outside, it’s a sweet coming-of-age film, about a 17-year-old in her final year of Catholic high school in Sacramento. An ordinary girl in an ordinary town, right? And it’s an ordinary high school movie, too: college applications, best friends, drama group, house parties, first kisses, career advice, arguments with Mum and, of course, prom night.
But it’s within the confines of this ordinariness that the beauty of Lady Bird – both the film and the character played so winningly by Saorsie Ronan – shine through. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it has a personal touch that builds to something that feels a lot like love. As one of the Nuns at Scared Heart says: “Aren’t they the same thing, love and paying attention?”
Gerwig, whose acting style and indie choices I’ve not always loved, might just carry off a huge surprise on Oscar night in what is a special year for female voices. This film tells a familiar film tale but with the neatest yet hugest of adjustments: to the female perspective. It’s about a daughter and her mother (the excellent Laurie Metcalfe) as much as anything else and the pair of them together are wonderful.
They argue and bicker and Mum snips away with her passive aggressive comments – “is it maybe too pink?” – until you want to scream. But there is such love in this relationship, I just welled up. Think of all the unsaid stuff, and it breaks your heart.
There’s an amazing moment when Lady Bird – her real name is Christine, but she wants something ‘more’ – yells at her Mum to write down a number, a figure of how much she reckons it’s cost to raise her and, says Lady Bird, “I’m gonna be so rich and successful I’ll pay you all of it back and never have to speak to you again.” Metcalfe’s face says it all – stunned, hurt, upset, ashamed of her own nagging – but she bats back: “I doubt you’ll ever get a job good enough for that to happen.”
It’s all about non-communication, this film, about connections and finding a spot you’re comfortable with. As such it resembles Gerwig’s film Frances Ha, particularly in its final scenes. But it’s a far simpler, far more likeable film whose charm accrues in details and observations – of clothes, fashion, music cues (Alanis Morissette’s Hand in my Pocket, Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River) until it feels like everyone’s teenage years somehow.
It’s a very smart, very precise film, and very funny in parts – the drama teacher replaced by the sports coach is just brilliant, and must be from a true story. In fact, that’s why it works. It just feels very true, in the remarkable performance of Saorsie Ronan, particularly when her and Metcalfe are arguing and picking out a dress, and in the direction which is admirably tight.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a film about hope and growth and dreams and not being defined by high school and family. Its very ordinariness is what makes it so extraordinary, especially now its up for Best Picture. In a year of nothing special and a year of rebalancing so female voices are heard and viewpoints seen, Lady Bird is in exactly the right place at the right time.