• Katie Heyes

Film Fridays: Lady Bird Review

Gerta Gerwig’s markedly unorthodox style of storytelling in this 2017 coming of age film

is what truly makes it distinct from the endless slew of teenage dramas to hit the big screen in recent years. Almost becoming somewhat of a showcase of young talent, Lady Bird imparts an engaging and at times unsettling portrayal of typical adolescent dilemmas such as first loves, those oh so daunting University applications and the strained relationships between family members.

Right from the offset, we see how our Protagonist (Saoirse Ronan) embodies the bourgeoning desires amongst most misplaced teenagers yearning for something unattainable. Her rejection of her own birth name Christine, assigning herself her own new name - “lady bird” – can only be a symbol of this desire to free herself from the supposed burden imposed on her by her family being from “the wrong side of the tracks.” This resentment of her own family has caused tensions to sky rocket within the household, especially with the mother and daughter who seem to constantly be at odds with each other. With Lady Bird’s dreams of travelling to New York, be accepted into a prestigious university and pursue an advanced career comes in brutal contrast with her mother Marion’s (Laurie Metcalf) blunt pragmatism and frequent disapproval. This strain on their relationship is portrayed wonderfully by our two main actresses – Ronan and Metcalf – with the numerous prolonged scenes ranging from awkwardness and bickering all the way to a verbally abusive battle, marvellously mirror the problematic family scene.

Not only does our protagonist have to deal with her toxic situation at home but the film also covers a broad range of typical teenage dilemmas. From the excruciatingly clichéd scenes of a first love to the stress of attaining certain exam grades, many young adults will find something they can relate to (regrettably or not) in some way or another.

However, these challenging teenage dramas, concurrent with the brutal family tensions at play, makes this a very uneasy viewing experience.

I found myself constantly fluctuating between loathing or liking our main character mainly due to her all-consuming obsession to change her identity, social status and to distance herself as far away from mediocrity as physically possible. In essence, she’s constantly at war with the world around her. Yet, the frustration comes in due part because unlike most coming of age stories, this isn’t a so-called fish out of water story. From an outsider’s perspective, she’s doing quite well; partying with her drama class and having a close bond with her best friend (Beanie Feldstein)– but she doesn’t see these positive qualities in fact she rejects them. In search for a more esteemed status and identity, we see a character constantly putting on this façade towards those she wants to impress. Rejecting her friends to fit in with the more popular crowd and even getting her father to drop of her off far from school due to her embarrassment – her façade becomes cruel and insensitive throughout the entire film. In fact, it encompasses her life so profoundly it creates a barrier to her true emotions.

This lack of any kind of sincerity, results in much of the dialogue lacking any emotional density. The tone becomes very fast-paced and abrupt – it's almost as if someone pressed fast forward on the girl’s life. Unfortunately, this means viewers can’t properly get attached to the raw poignant drama of the story, leaving us feeling unfilled and unengaged after almost every scene. Then again, the setting seems so cruel, degrading and restrictive that it’s hard not to sympathise with a girl clearly insecure about herself.

A conflicting viewing experience to say the least and not at all easy to watch. However, after letting it sit for a few hours, I suddenly realise that the simplicity is really what makes this film unique and meaningful. It is a definite escapism from our reality in order to truly emphasise our protagonist’s predicament; once she starts to let go and embrace her current life and true self, more depth begins to show and it becomes an interesting journey to watch. Her self-identification at the end becomes so moving that you realise all the sentimental detachment was a deliberate choice by Gerwig to build up to that moment. It says so much in such little words.

And that’s the best way I can put it - Simplicity defines the film!

What makes Gerwig’s film work, all comes down to the old filmmaking trick of showing not telling. There doesn’t need to be some long drawn-out scene to explain a character’s choices or a lot of dialogue to convey what the character’s intentions are. The meaning is evident in just a few words. You don’t need to hold too much on a scene for it to leave an impact… and this film leaves a great one!

So all in all, despite the initial difficult viewing experience, this is without a doubt a film that deserves at least one viewing. Once you realise what it’s building up to, it truly makes you just want to sit and take it all in. So much is said yet so little is spoken – opening new avenues for not just filmmaking but storytelling in general.

Rating 4/5 Stars

- Katie x

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