Lady Bird

directed by Greta Ger­wig Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

The Monthly (Australia) - - ARTS & LETTERS - by Luke Good­sell

Like her lit­er­ary hero Joan Did­ion, Greta Ger­wig hails from Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia, and has al­ways worn her West Coast idio­syn­crasy as part of her dis­tinct charm as a per­former. Emerg­ing from the “mum­blecore” scene of the mid 2000s, she was briefly (and fatu­ously) feted as Hol­ly­wood’s next quirky in­genue, be­fore re­shap­ing her tra­jec­tory by co-au­thor­ing 2012’s ex­u­ber­ant Brook­lyn blast Frances Ha with her col­lab­o­ra­tor and part­ner, di­rec­tor Noah Baum­bach. Lady Bird is her first film as sole di­rec­tor, a loosely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, un­ex­pect­edly ten­der com­ing-of-age piece that re­turns Ger­wig, with a vivid sense of time and place, to her home­town. The film opens with a qui­etly dis­parag­ing quote from Did­ion about her sleepy city, bluntly ap­pended by the self-anointed Lady Bird (Saoirse Ro­nan), a 17-year-old Catholic high school se­nior. “I hate Cal­i­for­nia,” she de­clares, mo­ments be­fore hurling her­self from her mother’s mov­ing ve­hi­cle. It’s 2002, and Lady Bird fan­cies her­self a bo­hemian flower among the weeds of sub­ur­ban Sacra­mento’s strip malls and dead-end clear skies, grimly punc­tu­ated by the sounds of Justin Tim­ber­lake and TV dis­patches from the War on Ter­ror. It’s a world spe­cific to Sacra­mento and yet fa­mil­iar to any­one who was a teenager in the waste­land of the early 21st cen­tury. Ger­wig fur­nishes it in acute de­tail, from flip-phones and dial-up to the McMan­sions co­ex­ist­ing with eco­nomic down­siz­ing. It’s a mil­len­nial slant on that Cal­i­for­nia where, as Did­ion once wrote, “a boom men­tal­ity and a sense of Chekho­vian loss meet in un­easy sus­pen­sion”. Echo­ing Ger­wig’s own lilt­ing, er­ratic ca­dence, the film moves in un­pre­dictable dra­matic ways, wired to the rhythm of ado­les­cent life and the en­dur­ing beats of the teen movie genre. Un­der Ger­wig’s per­cep­tive di­rec­tion, Ro­nan spins on a dime from Ghost World sar­casm to open heart reve­la­tion as she maps Lady Bird’s fum­bling from self-ab­sorp­tion to the first in­ti­ma­tions of adult­hood. Nowhere is this bet­ter re­alised than in Lady Bird’s re­la­tion­ship with her work­ing-class mother (a ca­reerbest Lau­rie Met­calf), an achingly real love–hate sym­bio­sis that gives the film its emo­tional st­ing. What res­onates most is the adult per­spec­tive on mem­ory that comes with time, and the in­evitable re­turn and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with home. In the film’s most ex­pres­sive mon­tage – mo­ments af­ter Lady Bird has dis­solved her teenage bed­room, paint­ing over the crushes in­scribed on her wall – a se­ries of el­e­gant match cuts cap­ture mother and daugh­ter driv­ing against the Cal­i­for­nia sun­light in tem­po­ral syn­chronic­ity. It’s no sur­prise that the mo­ment re­calls one of Did­ion’s re­marks in Grif­fin Dunne’s re­cent doc­u­men­tary Joan Did­ion: The Cen­ter Will Not Hold. The vet­eran au­thor says of her home­town, “It formed ev­ery­thing I ever think, or ever do, or am.” In Lady Bird, we find Ger­wig’s own cre­ation myth, and it’s a gem.

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