A look at Lady Bird (M)…
Movies depicting the coming of age of teenagers about to leave secondary school and embark on a university course can head down one of two paths.
They can be jerky and overly emotional or they can investigate a family’s dynamics without becoming completely soppy.
The latter is the case with writer-director Greta Gerwig’s film which was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar last month.
Gerwig, of course, is an accomplished actor in her own right but judging from her stand-alone directorial debut she’s got a lot more top movies in her.
It’s 2002 in Sacramento, California and Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is in her last year at high school – a strict Catholic institution – and has her heart set on leaving her home town and getting a college place in New York.
She comes from a lower middle class family struggling to keep everything together.
Mum is Marion (Laurie Metcalf) a psychology nurse who works double shifts at the hospital to keep her family afloat.
Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) is a gentlemanly IT consultant who has just been made redundant. His daughter frequently mentions they’re from the “wrong side of the tracks.”
This family is pretty much identical to Gerwig’s own when she was a teenager growing up in Sacramento.
And the central theme in the movie is the mother-daughter relationship.
From pleasant and charming intimacy to full-on blazing arguments Lady Bird and Marion battle it out right through the 94 minutes: a jagged, frequently fractured, relationship.
But there’s other relationships involving Lady Bird.
Her best friend is chubby Julie (Beanie Feldstein). Walking to school occasionally they stop outside beautiful double-storeyed period homes with four bedrooms on the top floor looking out onto manicured lawns and perfect flower gardens.
Both girls handle their schoolwork and assignments reasonably proficiently and Lady Bird becomes involved with the school musical (a Sondheim adaptation), and the theatre production.
She’s interested in boys, of course. But the two she hits on are the wrong ones.
Lady Bird’s first romance is with Danny (Lucas Hedges) who turns out to be gay. Then there’s brooding rock band member Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) who isn’t a virgin as Lady Bird had assumed before their first dalliance.
She battles on with Marion helping her pick out the best frock she can see from racks in an op shop.
Lady Bird wants to look her best for the college graduation ball and Marion is in a friendly mood.
The school headmistress – a benign nun played by 87-year- old Lois Smith – has continually supported the 17-year-old in her quest to make it to college in New York.
Although it must be said the headmistress and her nun sisters keep an eagle eye on the boys and girls dancing at the ball, careful they don’t make too much body contact.
Gerwig has occasional shots of the sun rising and setting over Sacramento’s bridges and buildings as she showcases her own – and Lady Bird’s – home town.
It’s a beautiful portrait of a city, a school and a home where family conflicts are aired and mostly sorted out.