Saturday 18 August 2018

Lady Bird 5 star movie review: 'Believe the hype - a beautiful film'

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Saoirse Ronan with co-star Lucas Hedges in Lady Bird

Chris Wasser

Here we are now, the one that everyone’s been yapping about for months. The loveliest thing we can say about Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is that it comes as close — maybe closer — to capturing the sugared joys and sensational adversities of adolescence than most pop songs ever could. It’s the catchiest of the lot. It’s freer than a John Hughes picture.

The meanest thing we could say about Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is that there isn’t enough of it. Maybe we’re being greedy. Maybe 93 minutes is the perfect running time. That way, we can be sure we’ll never tire of repeat viewings. 

In short, everything you’ve heard is true. We can now confirm that Saoirse Ronan is, like, the greatest (but you already knew that). We can also confirm that Timothee Chalamet is a wee gem (you knew that, too), Lucas Hedges is back on form (he had us worried in Three Billboards). Laurie Metcalf is back in the room and Greta Gerwig’s cool and confident directorial debut is an absolute belter.

Lady Bird is, essentially, a film about teenagers. It’s a film about going to school, fighting with your mum and trying to figure out who you are, what you’re about and what it is you want to do with your life. Can you tell one of these kinds of stories in an hour-and-a-half? Yes. Yes, you can.

Sacramento, 2002. Seventeen-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is on a college tour with her mum, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). They look chummy. They seem to get along just fine. Blink and you’ll miss the change in temperature. Basically, Lady Bird and mum begin arguing about college and future and everything in between. It descends into a shouting match (get used to it), before Lady Bird opens the passenger door and hurls herself out of the moving car. It’s quite the opener.

Our story resumes during Lady Bird’s final year at a strict-ish Catholic high school. Lady Bird (a nickname almost nobody calls her by) wants to go to college in New York, where there’s culture and stuff. Her mum reckons she should aim lower. We know how this argument goes.

A lot happens in Lady Bird’s final year. She signs up for theatre class. She starts a relationship with an aspiring musical star (Lucas Hedges as Danny). Later, she gets a part-time job, falls for the moody and musical, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), ditches her best mate, Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and tries to be popular.

Back home, things are wobbly. There is tension between Lady Bird and her brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues). Her mum is working all the shifts in the world to keep the family afloat. Her dad, Larry (Tracy Letts), recently lost his job and is struggling with depression. He is the only one with whom Lady Bird can engage in reasonable and rational conversation. It’s a busy piece.

Every now and then, you fear that Gerwig’s confident and convincing, coming-of-age yarn might buckle under the weight of one too many distractions. We needn’t have worried. We are, after all, in the presence of a pro, and Gerwig’s steady juggling act is a joy to behold.

Read more: 'Some actors are naturals, Saoirse's almost unnatural'

Long story short, I adored Lady Bird. Warm, funny and, occasionally, heartbreaking, it’s everything you could possibly hope for from a film about growing up. The teenagers talk like real teenagers. The pre-Twitter setting is perfect. The pretentious prat (Kyle) gets called out for being a pretentious prat. Gerwig’s delightful offering is the genuine article.

Her exemplary cast members fall effortlessly into place. There’s not a false note among them. Hedges (solid) and Chalamet (gifted) give good romantic distraction. Metcalf and Letts’ good cop, bad cop routine is superb.

It all flows through and, indeed, around, a stellar, Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan, who channels awkward and, occasionally, angry adolescence with both ease and charm. A wondrous talent, who appears to have discovered a whole new kinda groove in adulthood, we couldn’t picture anyone but Ronan as Lady Bird. She is — to Ronan and Gerwig, at least — a real person, and they both treat her as such.

Believe the hype. A beautiful film.

Read Paul Whitington's review: Lady Bird 5 star movie review: Saoirse Ronan shines in Greta Gerwig's wise and delightful film 

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