This review is part of a series covering the “Best Picture” nominees at the 2018 Academy awards. As all films featured in this series of reviews are by definition considered to be among the best films of the year (at least in the eyes of the Academy), they will not follow the usual 5 star reviewing system used on Whiplash Review, but will instead break the film down into it’s constituent parts of script/screenplay, performances and directing.
This coming of age film set in Gerwig’s native Sacramento is a moving and witty story following Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) on a journey of self discovery.
Script/screenplay – ★★★★☆
Performances – ★★★★★
Directing – ★★★☆☆
Nominations: 5 – Best picture, Best Director (Gerwig), Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf), Best Original Screenplay (Gerwig)
Growing up in suburban Sacramento in 2002, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) lives, both literally and metaphorically, on the wrong side of the railway tracks. Attending a prestigious Catholic high school surrounded by affluent classmates who live in picture postcard mansions that Lady Bird and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) can only jealously look at on their way to school. Lady Bird doesn’t live in absolute poverty, but their family certainly subsist on the breadline, with job and money problems a catalyst for the difficult relationship Lady Bird has with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird is sick of living in Sacramento, and longs to to to college on the East Coast “where there’s actual culture”.
The film follows Lady Bird’s trials in growing up and trying to work out who exactly she is. Starting off by auditioning for the school musical and falling in love with preppy Danny (Lucas Hedges), she is soon disillusioned and begins to rebel against both her schooling and her parents when she meets pretentious proto-millenial Kyle (Timothee Chalamet). As Lady Bird goes through her final year in high school she is forced to navigate her opinions on religion, abortion and losing her virginity. While on the surface these themes seem identical to many other coming of age stories, it is the witty and self effacing script, as well as the fantastic performances which sets Lady Bird apart. In one particularly memorable scene, Lady Bird and her first boyfriend Danny sit on the bonnet of his car looking at the stars. Lady Bird reminds Danny “You know you can touch my boobs”. “I know, I just respect you too much” replies Danny, before Lady Bird retorts with “That’s cool. If you had boobs, I wouldn’t touch them either”.
The most compelling relationship portrayed in the film however is not between Lady Bird and either of her boyfriends, but between her and her mother Marion. Marion is a hard working nurse, working all hours under the sun to provide for her family, and yet while she is able to (just about) provide the economic wellbeing needed in the household, her relationship with her daughter could be described as challenging at best, and emotionally neglectful/abusive at worst. All parents occasionally say or do things to their teenage children which upsets or offends them, but this goes far beyond the level of putting your foot in your mouth, and into the realms of an inability to communicate effectively in any way without causing pain. Both Lady Bird and Marion are flawed characters, and both appear unwilling to consider each other’s world view as in any way valid. While Lady Bird’s explanation for feeling this way can in many respects be put down to being in her teenage years, we never really discover any motivation or reason for Marion’s behaviour. In a way this is one of the least satisfying elements of the film, and leaves Marion’s character as an enigma never really explored.
That being said, the dynamic between the two is electric, with their lines fizzling and crashing off each other, and it is entirely understandable why both have been nominated for solo Oscar nods (Ronan for best Actress and Metcalf for best supporting Actress). The film also cleverly raises ideas of religion and how they fit, or don’t, with growing up in 21st century America. As Lady Bird becomes more brazen, she berates one of her teachers for lecturing them against abortions. The school are being shown pictures of aborted babies, to which Lady Bird shouts out “If you took close up pictures of my vagina on my period it wouldn’t look nice, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong”. This her way of interrogating the boundaries of her own beliefs, as well as highlighting an important issue in America regarding life/choice. These themes are understandably not the focus of the film, however it is a little disappointing that they are not explored in a little more depth. At 93 minutes long, the film could have easily handled a few extra scenes without beginning to feel long or bloated at all, and without distracting from the main performances either. The cinematography of the film too is hardly earth shattering either, there is little flair or daring in the framing or composition of the shots. If it had to be described in one word, it would be adequate.
Other than the Acting and Best film categories, the other two Oscars that Lady Bird is nominated for are Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director. A female director has never directed a film which won Best Picture, and only 5 females (including Gerwig) have even been nominated for Best Director. The last time was 2009, when Kathryn Bigelow won best Director for The Hurt Locker, upsetting Avatar which was widely expected to sweep the awards. It is criminal that women are still so painfully under represented at the highest level of showbiz, but if the 2017 Weinstein/Spacey scandal, along with the subsequent #MeToo campaigns have shown, there is a renewed debate being had in Hollywood about how women are represented and treated. Let’s hope this leads to more representation at all levels, and more recognition when it comes to awards.
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Please click below to read the other reviews in the series as and when they are written:
Call Me by Your Name – COMING SOON
Darkest Hour – COMING SOON
Dunkirk – Click Here
Get Out – Click Here
Lady Bird – Click Here
Phantom Thread – COMING SOON
The Post – Click Here
The Shape of Water – COMING SOON
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Click Here