Wearer of many hats-actor, writer, producer-Greta Gerwig, has dived into her first solo directorial project, sweeping away some of the middle-aged-white-male dross as she goes.
Lady Bird is the work of a mature, sophisticated, writer and director. It eschews cliché. It refuses to follow the easy plot-line. It defies the Hollywood paradigm of talking down to the audience.
Irish-American actor Saoirse Ronan stars as “Lady Bird” McPherson, a college Senior living in Sacramento. Sense of place in this work is strong, opening with the Joan Didion quote: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Gerwig is herself a Sacramento native, like Didion, and the film is as much a love-letter to the city, as it is anything else.
This film’s spine is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion, played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf. And this is where Gerwig’s script shines. This is one of the most authentic portrayals of parenting, and in particular of the mother-daughter relationship, that I have ever seen. I doubt it could be bettered. Although I try to avoid being too personal in reviews, I must report that one scene in particular, was so much like myself and my teenaged daughter, that it drew a sharp intake of breathe from me. I almost felt as though my privacy had been invaded.
Brilliant in the supporting, but pivotal role of Lady Bird’s father Larry, is Tracy Letts. Completing the McPherson family is Jordan Rodrigues as brother Miguel. One of the joys of this film is that Miguel is clearly adopted, but nothing is made of it: family is family. In fact, Lady Bird herself may be adopted, but it is neither here nor there.
Along with themes of place and family, is the thread of Catholic education. Instead of the standard “I was abused in a Catholic school” narrative, we have the more contemporary portrait of Catholic education, and the kinds of people who become nuns/priests/brothers, in the modern church. Outstanding are Stephen Henderson as Father Leviatch and Lois Smith as Sister Sarah Joan. Anyone who has attended a Catholic school since the 60s will laugh with joyful recognition at the (that word again), authentic, portrait.
Chris Jones and Traci Spadorcia deserve a special mention for production design and set decoration, respectively. The McPherson home and community are realistically and lovingly rendered, avoiding any visual clichés.
This is a beautiful, beautiful film. It is humorous, and gently dramatic, and real, and moving, and important. It will stay with you for days, weeks, the rest of your life. It is a testament to the power of cinematic under-statement.
Let’s hope Greta Gerwig continues to work her magic, and is not eaten up by the white-male Hollywood machine.
Lady Bird opens tomorrow.
Check out the official site here.