In preparing for Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut in “Lady Bird,” I hads a sense of apprehension about the experience I presumed I would have. As industry costs increase and fall to the consumer, it becomes a greater gamble of financial precarity when $15 is the entry fee for the chance of an entertaining film and an enjoyable evening. Naturally, trailers yield the byway method of circumventing our concerns about this very problem, yet often find themselves under heavy critique for their own representation of the film they aim to market. With “Lady Bird,” I found an unfortunate parallel to this issue. However, it seemed to work astoundingly, and in a manner I hadn’t truly expected.
Looking at the trailer, the film may come across as a tonal reincarnation of mid-2000s coming-of-age comedies, maybe somewhere between the raunchy candidness of “Superbad” and the wholesome fun of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Characters are given a particular quirk which seem to define their portrayal in the world — an approach to characterization I’m particularly dismissive of. As for Gerwig’s characters, the shy, comedic relief of the best friend is matched with the persistence and cynicism of “Grand Budapest Hotel” actress Saoirse Ronan’s titular character, only to be challenged by personalities of callousness and passivity in the reality she finds herself in.
“Lady Bird” follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school senior on the hunt for a college deemed sufficiently prideful in her eyes. Despite the ongoing criticism she endures for nicknaming herself, the tale is one of self-contentment in the annals of life’s hostile familiarities. Lady Bird strives for approval in nearly every facet of the daily challenges she faces, whether that involves the superficiality of school-grounded friendship, or the greater, more deeply-seated contention that sits at the core of her increasingly-estranged relationship with her mother.
Truthfully, the film took me by pleasant surprise. Where I anticipated a reskin of something closer to “Youth In Revolt”’s yearning to be idiosyncratic for the very sake of it, there are rich and nuanced layers just beneath the characterization in “Lady Bird.” Appreciably, the tone
of the film is not set by the trite concerns of the high school student craving a corner of the world. Rather, it tackles the issues of affluence and impoverishment, imagery of one’s self and the acceptance of their stature, depression, mental well-being and an upright sense of relativistic stability and empowerment from within, unaffected by the woes of finance and lifestyle. Gerwig establishes a textured world of depth and interaction between her characters, inciting revisits to common existential crises without a need for concealing the importance of their impact on the human psyche. Dialogue holds no reluctance in getting into the meat of what makes humans frightened, anxious or straightforwardly sad. It’s a painful, cathartic experience to translate “Lady Bird”’s agitation towards the world reflectively into one’s self; simultaneously, though, it’s incredibly important. The narrative structure frequently bounces between high peaks of adolescent bliss, liberation and rebellion from adults within a rigorously systematic culture, to the low troughs of coming to terms with the reality of one’s existence in that happiness is not inherently accredited to all.
Visually, the film is unbelievably gorgeous. Colors pop in a muted vibrancy, patiently pacing their involvement in the world. Lights dance and sparkle across the Sacramento landscape, juxtaposing serene nights of greens and blues with the warmth and energy of a hot summer day. Crisp cinematography matches these colorful techniques, giving meticulous insight into “Lady Bird”’s lower-class life — unlike that of her peers. The occasional visual gag is played coolly, shifting into the story with comfortable delight and evoking laughter where necessary. There’s not much more to say here, as the form jells into the world so cleanly that I had practically ignored it — not out of its poor visual execution, but because of a masterful ability to quietly slip behind the narrative layer and boost its existence rather than pull attention away from the tale.
“Lady Bird” is a brave film with a fresh story, completely redefining my standards for the coming-of-age genre. The cast is a powerhouse of acting finesse, delivering heartfelt and all-too-common anxieties that bog us down into the cyclical nature of euphoria and catastrophic distress. Identity is given room to breathe beyond the stereotypical precedents we place upon the characters of this tonally-familiar drama-comedy style, ascending its message into a distinctive, unique and courageous level of honesty. More than anything, I think I was just pleased to see the dichotomies of internal conflict brought to the film medium in such a brash and entirely unapologetic manner.
At the very least, Gerwig can be thanked for thousands of phone calls to mothers across the world. Watch a trailer if you must, but know the tearjerker will likely hit closer to home than a two-minute video can advertise.