Let’s think back to the Oscars even though you’ve forgotten about it all about as they didn’t cock anything up this year. Because they were accused of ignoring independent movies for a long time, they now nominate one every year just to make sure they have some representation. And they even win sometimes, with Moonlight shocking us all last year. Mainly because we thought La La Land had won. This year’s independent nomination was Lady Bird but was it there on merit? Let’s find out.
Christine (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna), who also calls herself Lady Bird, is frustrated with her dull life in Sacramento. In an attempt to get away from California, she starts applying to colleges on the East Coast. However her disapproving mother Marion (Laurie Metcalfe, Scream 2) believes she is wasting her time doing this and should just go to a local college instead.
The movie presents itself as a coming of age story. The film takes place over the entirety of Lady Bird’s senior year at high school from her deciding to go in the school play, interact with those forbidden creatures boys and also constantly be in desperate anger at the fact she lives in Sacramento. Boy, does Sacramento get made out to be the worst city on Earth in this movie. It’s fairly standard in that way. Yes, despite being a beloved independent movie, it uses many of the tropes that we have become used to in Hollywood coming of age movies. Does the lead character try to get with the cool kids for a while, abandoning their true best friend to do so? Yep. Does the lead character have a romantic interest which goes badly? Two of them actually. Does she have constant clashes with her parents? Boy she does. It’s the biggest weakness of the movie. It’s doing the same things so many other films do without any interesting twist.
At the very least it doesn’t act like it’s the most original thing in the world. So many independent movies do that and it’s a ballsy move because it makes the movie incredibly annoying when you realise you saw it a few years ago in a film that was shown in an actual multiplex. But it does have a few other pretensions which get on my nerves. The movie doesn’t make the best first impression because it starts with both Lady Bird and Marion listening to The Grapes of Wrath on cassette in the car. I bloody hated that. It’s just a thing that never seems in character, especially when you find out the family is pretty much broke. So broke that Lady Bird is not allowed to buy a book later on, but they definitely have enough money for all the Grapes of Wrath cassettes. And yes, it irritates me that she calls herself Lady Bird. It’s another one of those things you only find in independent movies where a teenager dubs themselves with an impossibly romantic name because it sounds good as a movie title. I suppose Christine was taken though.
Those are the reasons I’m not in love with this film but there’s still plenty to like. While the coming of age stuff is quite trite, the scenes between Lady Bird and her mother are fantastic. This is why people hail this as a classic and the reason it was nominated for so many awards at the start of the year. The basic question is whether these two actually love each other. They may say it, but do they really mean it or are they just saying it because that’s what mothers and daughters are supposed to say to each other? There’s evidence both ways. Lady Bird is obviously looking for affection from her mother, which I would take as a sign of love, but also threatens to completely abandon her and never return when she leaves home. Marion though is completely mean-hearted to Lady Bird, demeaning her at every turn. But she obviously hurts when Lady Bird decides to go to her boyfriend’s for Thanksgiving. The scenes between them are fraught with tension and are incredibly good. If the entire movie was this, I’d be joining every other critic in hailing this as a modern classic.
This is aided by some brilliant performances. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actor, even if I never seem to get on board with her critically beloved movies, and she retreats into this role as a selfish but obviously bright and well-meaning teenager brilliantly. Usually when they get a young adult like Saoirse to play a teenager you can spot it a mile away, I still have flashbacks to Monster Trucks, but she is so good at the role that you forget that she’s actually 24-years-old. But while she is brilliant, the person who deserves all the plaudits is Laurie Metcalfe. As her battleaxe mother who you just cannot work out she has a career best performance. This is a woman who seems constantly on the edge and someone who you aren’t sure about her place in life. She’s not likable at all but you do think she’s doing it for a reason. But then you don’t know what that reason is. There are some hints but never a conclusive answer. and it’s Metcalfe who brings all these points out with her performance.
And even though it doesn’t really affect the movie at all except make it slightly nostalgic, I do like the setting of the early 2000s. Again, it doesn’t change the movie at all. Apart from maybe some snidey social media posts that would definitely happen, this movie would be the same if it was set in 2018. But then again, there’s something about the setting that enhances it. Maybe it is just the nostalgia, the fact that not everyone had mobile phones yet and that computers weren’t an every day part of life. It does mean the movie can get away with some story elements that would surely have been busted early on if modern technology existed. I think we are about to enter a period of being nostalgic for the early 2000s, if we aren’t already, and I can imagine this movie being hailed as one of the reasons why.
I’ll admit it, I don’t quite get Lady Bird. The movie is one of the best reviewed ever on Rotten Tomatoes but while I like it enough, I’m not sure why it was seen as one of the best of the year and why some thought it should win the Best Picture Oscar. So much of the film are old coming of age tropes that were tired back in the 1980s, never mind in 2018. Yes, the stuff between Lady Bird and her mother is fantastic. There’s no doubt about it. But that’s only half of the movie. And I can’t say the entire movie is amazing when I was bored by about half of it.