Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2017. Scott Rudin Productions, Entertainment 360, IAC Films. Screenplay by Greta Gerwig. Cinematography by Sam Levy. Produced by Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill, Scott Rudin. Music by Jon Brion. Production Design by Chris Jones. Costume Design by April Napier. Film Editing by Nick Houy. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Gotham Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Saoirse Ronan gives a bewitching performance as a teenager about to graduate from her Catholic school in conservative, colourless Sacramento, the California capital that, as the film’s opening tells us, Joan Didion once warned us about. Ronan’s Christine has parents (Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf) who are struggling financially, she loves her best friend (a wonderful Beanie Feldstein) but can’t resist the urge to drop her when the school’s most popular girl befriends her, and insists that everyone call her by her chosen, artistically whimsical nickname “Lady Bird”. She’s desperate to get away from this city she finds stifling and believes her only hope for happiness is to get into a school located far away, but people continually give her a hard time about her ridiculously high expectations for success regardless of whether or not they respect her new self-identification, including the astonishingly good Metcalf’s harsh truths that will make anyone who has ever had a mother cringe in recognition. What makes Greta Gerwig’s solo feature directorial debut, which she also scripted with tinges of autobiography, so magical is the way that the cruelest moments, particularly those between mother and daughter, also have generous helpings of humour and affection that never feel manipulated or sentimental. The whole thing is remarkably funny, Gerwig has a spot-on instinct for what points of the story are worth keeping in and gets through a lot of narrative detail in a compact period of time without the whole thing feeling like one big montage sequence.