In a year that will chiefly be remembered as the year that began an equality movement in Hollywood, it is important to underscore the significance of these auteurs’ achievements. From Dee Rees’s success with Mudbound, to Rachel Morrison’s historic Oscar nomination for cinematography (making her the first and only woman nominated for the category), to the end-of-year US box office result that saw three female-led films top the chart (The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, and Wonder Woman), it truly does feel like the beginning of change. But perhaps no filmmaker has left a mark on the year more than Greta Gerwig, who directed the record-breaking Lady Bird.
A coming-of-age drama, Lady Bird chronicles the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), an artistic and rebellious teenager trying to find her way with growing up, status, college dreams, and her relationships with the people around her. While that may sound similar to basically every other coming-of-age film, what sets Lady Bird apart from its contemporaries is how honest and raw its exploration is of the mother-daughter relationship in the heart of the film.
The film is anchored by two deeply moving performances from Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, whose dynamic — much to the tune of most mother-daughter relationships at this age — is tumultuous as it is loving and endearing.
“Lady Bird” seeks nothing but to break free from her family and her town, to grow up and see the world. Her surroundings somehow never seem to satisfy her, and she’s often seen looking ahead to what is coming. And if there’s anything about the character that is refreshing, it’s how she gradually understands the importance of looking back and around. In the film’s short 94 minute run, the character grows exponentially, but reaffirms how imperfect she is, reminding the viewer that this is a story of accepting one’s own flaws and embracing them, as well as those of the ones we love. And Ronan radiates in yet another stellar performance.
Roseanne actress Laurie Metcalf stuns in one of her most emotionally subtle and demanding role as a loving but strict mother. And perhaps the moments when she shines most are when she accepts her daughter into her arms unconditionally, even when “Lady Bird” does wrong by her. Metcalf’s Marion, like most mothers should but sadly fail to, chooses to turn the other cheek, remaining quiet and resilient all throughout. There is such power in the grounds she stands upon as a result. How strong she is in favour of her daughter’s well-being, even when the consequence is the deterioration of their relationship, is one of the most desperately human turns of the year.
And the main merit of the film is this very bond the two share, without which the film would be another addition to the canon of average coming-of-age films. And the credit for that goes to Gerwig’s phenomenal writing. The screenplay is so raw and fresh, from its moments of joy and warmth to its lowest points, that it is near impossible to not be caught up in the stories of these characters and the town in which they live, despite a rather choppy ending sequence that comes inorganically (this is not to be confused with the brilliant ending scene — simply how abruptly the narrative arrives at the ending).
So rare are the films that allow their director to take center stage, and despite being helmed by heavily-lauded names like Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, who both shine, Gerwig somehow eclipses every frame of the film, making the product an incomparably personal effort. Her love for this story and her characters, for her hometown — almost a supporting character in the film — is so large that it transcends the screen and invites the viewer in, almost exclusively, to be a part of every moment. If that is not a testament to powerful, game-changing, direction, then I don’t know what is. Lady Bird is, for all intents and purposes, the coming-of-age film event of the year.