Lady Bird is the last of the Best Picture nominees to land in the UK and unfortunately for most it is being released in a rather limited capacity. As the last major Oscar contender to make its way to us, it has been required to weather hype and excitement in the build up to its release -- at one stage in time, it held the record on Rotten Tomatoes for most positive reviews registered on the site, indicating universal acclaim. How does a film survive that? Pretty well indeed, as despite my reservations, Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is nothing short of a delight.
Set in Sacramento, California, in 2002, Lady Bird follows the coming-of-age story of a high senior, Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her testing relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). It really is as simple and straightforward as that and while there's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the bittersweet story itself, everything is executed with heart and soul to spare, ensuring that Lady Bird rises to the top of the pack.
With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig crafts a screenplay simultaneously personal and universal. Her writing somehow manages to utilise genre conventions but avoid the pitfalls associated with something that feels familiar, refreshing and rejuvenating the very idea of a coming-of-age tale. Characters (of both the lead and supporting variety) are rich and their struggles are complex and believable, well-rendered and developed over the course of the film's tight 93 minutes. Taking themes of identity, acceptance and societal pressures and making them feel new again, Gerwig's work in Lady Bird deserves that Best Original Screenplay nomination, delivering a script as honest as it is relatable, as funny as it is emotional. Tears will be shed here, of the happy and sad assortment.
Gerwig makes her directorial debut here, too. Accomplished beyond her years, Gerwig impresses through her ability to strike the right tone and balance the emotionally-fraught relationships and the narrative and thematic confusion that comes hand-in-hand with a genre movie with ease. It could look messy in less confident hands but it is so easy to see how much this film means to Gerwig; lovingly-made and affectionately-told at every turn, Gerwig has achieved something really quite stunning in her first piece of filmmaking. There's a beautifully-hazy quality to the visuals, achieving the 'memory-like' quality Gerwig was aiming for. Sam Levy's cinematography is warm and stunning, exhibiting Sacramento wonderfully as the small-town one over from you.
More so than a lot of films, Lady Bird lives and dies by its cast and Gerwig has assembled a mighty fine crop of talent to tell her story. Nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and owner of the Golden Globe for A Comedy Performance, Saoirse Ronan once again demonstrates her range and skill as one of Hollywood's finest young actresses. Capable of selling the various shades of Lady Bird's personality - hormonal rage to identity crisis - Ronan delivers what you could easily argue as her strongest performance to date, ensuring that we relate and empathise with her even during her more challenging times. She nails the humour, emotion and anger marvellously, showcasing the plethora of shades experienced by almost-adults that each and every one of us will recognise; it is an incredibly well-balanced performance.
Laurie Metcalf is altogether impressive as Marion, so raw and genuine in her every emotion and scene. It is a subtle, understated and considered piece of character acting, sublime and emotive. Disappointingly, she will likely miss out on the Best Supporting Actress nomination because of how internalised her low-key, high-impact performance is, especially considering the Academy's inclination to reward the spectacle this year (file under: Oldman over Chalamet, Rockwell over Dafoe, McDormand over Hawkins). Even when she is saying very little - including the film's pinnacle, a heartbreaking sequence that sees her driving away from the airport - her body language and facial expressions speak louder than words could, registering one of the most moving supporting performances of the year.
Bolstering these two phenomenal lead performances are a fantastic supporting cast, including a crop of up-and-coming talent; Lucas Hedges, fresh from impressing in Manchester By The Sea and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is tremendous as Danny, responsible for the entire film's most gut-wrenching and powerful scenes; in a hella-tight performance, Timothee Chalamet's Danny oozes with arrogance and conceit, a world away from Chalamet's Elio in Call Me By Your Name indicating that he is a talent with the range and talent to go far; and Beanie Feldstein is so expressive and humorous, making Julie's plot strand feel wonderfully-layered if formulaic, and despite often existing on the peripherals of Lady Bird's central story, receives a handful of moments to shine.
A remarkable Tracy Letts is so endearing as Lady Bird's father, restraining his performance enough so to allow the mother-daughter dynamic to reign free, while adding his detailed relationships with each as a special delight for us to find enjoyment in; calling him comic relief feels insulting because he is so much more than that, but he terrifically helps defuse the tension when it almost becomes too much, illustrating both Letts and Gerwig skill marvellously.
Lady Bird is a deeply personal but completely universal tale of growth and development, youth and relationships, told with intimacy, heart and soul. Packed into a wonderful screenplay is a real sense of place, from Jon Brion's score and use of music and Levy's cinematography affirming the tone and atmosphere of the film perfectly. The cast are sensational, with utterly fantastic lead performances from Ronan and Metcalf in particular, although the quality across the board is mightily impressive. All that said though, this really is Greta Gerwig's film and she excels as both writer and director; it is an outstanding piece of filmmaking with so much merit, made all the more accomplished knowing that this is her directorial debut. It is lovingly, thoughtfully made and the amount of love poured into the film and script is clear for all to see. Lady Bird soars so frequently, powerful and poignant. Prepare for all sorts of tears!
Summary: Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is utterly wonderful, a lovingly-made piece of cinema as powerful as it is poignant, musing on identity and adolescence through an almost-faultless screenplay. With fantastic performances across the board, led so magnificently by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird flies high.