The high school indie dramedy as a genre of film, gives me pause. While Juno arguably gave voice to a generation of youth everywhere, it also reinvigorated the 80s mindset of sheer volume. “Juno did well so let’s feed them more of this until they eventually dry heave at the sight of flannels, oversized glasses and any food object doubling as a phone.” We saw the same thing with American Pie, raunchy teen comedies which once felt unique, spawned a laundry list of Not Another Teen whatever the fuck.
Hollywood has always given feeling lost, confused or naive a uniform, and bullet points to hit. Instead of creating organic characters and fleshing out their worlds with things that fit their persona, I constantly see worlds manufactured with characters that feel of a mould and with the Juno character played out and saccharine.
So despite highly respecting the talent of everyone involved, I wasn’t excited for Lady Bird. I walked into my matinee screening expecting certain beats to be hit and for certain situations to be played for laughs. Which of course was the case. but I also sat with stupid grin on my face the entire time. And this is the weird and fascinating part about Lady Bird: writer/director Greta Gerwig doesn’t do anything groundbreaking (shocker). We’ve seen similar themes, character arcs and confrontations before. But within this tiny pocket of film, which actually has a shit load of content to stay away from, Gerwig and company manage to tell a provoking story that’s hilarious and honest.
Characters are just familiar enough that we all recognize Laurie Metcalf’s mother figure, or Timothee Chalamet’ intellectual douchey Kyle. But it’s the slight twist given to each character that gives them a fresh perspective and voice, and while I could pin them down in broad strokes, the minutiae of the characters was such that I felt like I was involved in lives that extended beyond the 90 minute runtime.
Whether or not Lady Bird is as fantastic as Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe is up for discussion and conversation about the platform itself. But Gerwig, who counts the film as her first solo directing debut, handles everything with skill. Saoirse Ronan is particularly good and I think—not having seen Brooklyn—gives the best performance of her career here. She deftly displays the confidence that only exists alongside the ignorance being 18 permits, but also the institutional vulnerability that comes when that confidence slips away. Lady Bird was definitely going to be nominated for Oscars and I’m not surprised to find Ronan and Gerwig in the running.
The cinematography throughout is fantastic, capturing the sun soaked valley of Sacramento with generosity. Burnt oranges mix with cool blues and greens to evoke feelings of endless summer. Whereas the film carries with it the exact opposite narrative emotion since Lady Bird, as Ronan asks to be called, is ultimately about endings and the bittersweet nature new beginnings attach themselves to. Every character in the film goes through their own version of this, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it grief. The picture of a father coming to terms with his age in a struggling job market, friends and separate universities etc etc.
40 years from now when those trite conversations surrounding the self-esteem of film lovers the world over, I do think Lady Bird will crop up as a best ever, and not just when discussing a genre film. Because sure, strip all the intricate dialogue away and great sense of time and place (2002) and you have another high school film. But not since Super Bad in 2007, and for totally different reasons, have I been so pleasantly wrong going into an experience I thought I had already pegged as a cookie cutter genre film.