Sunday, October 15, 2017

LADY BIRD - BFI London Film Festival 2017 - Day 11


LADY BIRD is a funny, moving, beautifully observed relationship drama centring around the teenage girl of the title.  It's an assured directorial debut from writer-actor Greta Gerwig (MISTRESS AMERICA) and features another impressive performance from Saoirse Ronan (ON CHESIL BEACH) in the lead role, fearlessly matched by Laurie Metcalf (ROSEANNE) as her mother.  This relationship is at the heart of the film, with its class-frustrations echoed in Lady Bird's relationship with her long-time best friend.  To be sure, we also see the 17 year old navigate relationships with boyfriends too, but these aren't at the heart of the film

Christine McPherson is a quirky, smart but frustrated teenager who adopts the Lady Bird persona to mark herself as different from the bland Sacramento society in which she lives.  She dreams of moving to New York and attending a liberal arts college where she'll find people with interests similar to her own. The central tragedy of this film is that she takes that frustration out on those who love her the most, principally her mother Marion.  Marion is another strong personality, and as much as she loves her daughter, she's frustrated that Christine doesn't appreciate what her parents have sacrificed to put her through private school.  Marion is also deeply hurt when she discovers that Christine has been mocking their house as being "on the wrong side of the tracks" because it doesn't live up to the flashier houses that some of her friends live in.  This relationship is at the very heart of the film and is so relatable and brilliantly observed that it's worth watching the film for that alone.

But there's so much more to admire in this film. Christine is oblivious to the fact that her father (a beautifully tender performance from Tracy Letts) has lost his job.  And although he's not the centre of the film there's such humanity in seeing this highly qualified man having to apply for the same graduate entry jobs that his also over-qualified son is applying for.  He seems to be a truly selfless and decent man, and reminded me a lot of Willem Dafoe's character in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.  I also loved the relationship between Christine and her childhood best friend - and the way Christine ditches her for a more glamorous set to attract a new boyfriend.  It's a betrayal and reconciliation we've seen a million times in teen comedies, but so much more authentic and real here.  Finally, I loved the way Gerwig handled Christine's love life, and a particularly touching scene between Ronan and her boyfriend played by Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA). My only minor criticism of the film is that I wanted to see more of that relationship after that scene - it felt strange to me that it didn't continue.

Overall, this is a truly impressive directorial debut from one of the most original and intelligent voices in cinema.  I really admire Gerwig's mission to give us something that feels more authentic than typical coming of age dramas, and her willingness to show life as it is - financial struggles, selfishness, arguments, even Christine's deliberate acne - the movie we LIVE rather than the movie that plays in our head, as she said in the post-film Q&A. 

LADY BIRD played Telluride, Toronto and London 2017. It will be released in the USA on November 3rd, in the UK on December 29th, and in Spain on May 4th 2018. The film has a running time of 93 minutes.

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