Review: Lady Bird is a wild teenage mood swing of a film

Lucas Hedges as Danny and Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Lady Bird. Photo: Univ

Lucas Hedges as Danny and Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Lady Bird. Photo: Universal Pictures - Credit: Universal Pictures

Lady Bird isn't strictly autobiographical, but indie actress-turned wtriter/director Greta Gerwig draws on fond memories of her Californian hometown for a beautifully observed valentine to mother-daughter relationships and youthful exuberance.

Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird. Photo: Universal Pictures - Credit: Universal Pictures

Lady Bird (15)

****

Lady Bird, the given name of Christine McPherson ('I gave it to myself'), is an ordinary teenage girl in her last year at a Catholic High School in unglamorous Sacramento, California, who believes that she is something special, even as the rest of the world conspires to persuade her she isn't.

Lady Bird, the film that is Greta Gerwig's first as a writer/director, covers ordinary, well-explored territory – high school cliques, mother/daughter relationship, prom, losing virginity, applying for college - in a way that is extraordinary, and not quite like anything you saw before.

Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and Beanie Feldstein as Julie in Lady Bird. Photo:

Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson and Beanie Feldstein as Julie in Lady Bird. Photo: Universal Pictures - Credit: Universal Pictures


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Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), being a girl from the wrong side of the tracks trying to keep up with more affluent schoolmates, could be this generation's Pretty In Pink Molly Ringwald. But Gerwig's film isn't following the John Hughes model, or any other.

It a wild teenage mood swing of a film. One moment it's hilarious — a football coach who has reluctantly but enthusiastically taken over directing the school stage production of The Tempest, maps it out the production as a series of gridiron plays — the next heartbreaking, the next humdrum. It gets that awkward balance between being 'real' and being entertaining just right.

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Ronan and Laurie Metcalf excel as mother and daughter, but every single performer gets to be at their very best.

Beanie Feldstein as impressionable best friend Julie looks like she might steal the whole film, until she gets sidelined halfway through.

Lucas Hedges as Danny and Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Lady Bird. Photo: Univ

Lucas Hedges as Danny and Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson in Lady Bird. Photo: Universal Pictures - Credit: Universal Pictures

There are heaps of cherishable lines of dialogue but it isn't a script film, where the crackling dialogue is almost a straitjacket; it all flows and the zingers emerge naturally, in character and without fanfare.

The most striking aspect of the film is the editing. It's not exactly Michael Bay speed but it rattles along and no scene is allowed to overstay its stay. That slight running time (95 minutes) suggests something light and breezy but Lady Bird is so densely packed with incidents and insights that it feels more like two hours. There's a weight to it, even melancholy.

Ultimately, possible spoiler, the film seemed quite conservative to me – family and church are the most important thing and on the way home I didn't feel especially euphoric, as you'd expect to after seeing a special film. In fact, I was a little bit down. John Peel's headstone has on it the Undertones line, 'Teenage dreams, so hard to beat,' but the message here is that teenage dreams are just things you need to get through.

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