Here comes another kiddie indie; once more with ivory skin, effigies feigning ersatz geeks, and that dreaded, oh so dreadful, droll, & unearthly, quirk. On these planets, fashioned from the fancies of nostalgic 30 something hipsters, kids have erudition, uncanny articulation, and ripostes that rip adult throats.
The planet palette is beige and some. In this sepia solar system, blemishless white teens are baked to gold, dress in autumnal chic, and maneuver plaid furniture, brick, wood, black kids, and never-white-painted walls & unorthodox wallpapers. It begs you to pet its furry mane; it wants to be liked.
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird succumbs to that genre caw thick. But, unlike The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, and The Edge Of Seventeen, two contemporary kiddy indie cohorts, before it, Lady Bird registers character and emotion before wit and surficial quirk.
Saoirse Ronan is the self-appointed, titular, “Lady Bird” a high school kid named Christine, like many, who believes she must flee far from her Sacramento coop to fly. Getting into an East Coast college will afford her that distance, but domestic dramas weigh her down. Especially a hard objection from her Mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) whose word in the McPherson house is law. Marion wants Lady Bird close to home, a conviction wrought from fear and love, and will enforce that in her consistently curt, critical, and incontestable manner. And Lady Bird will rebut with a commensurate stubbornness. Unstoppable force…. Immovable object…
And then there’re boys (Lucas Hedges & Timothée Chalamet), friends, jobs, grades, school plays, homecoming, and prom. Gerwig observes her characters, and we experience their lives, from an objective point of view — as memories. We’re not there with them, we’re at arm's length, the camera at a distance and the sparing close-ups like a riper recollection. We clip along from one time marker to the other, a dance, a play, a boyfriend, and the next. At this viewpoint the mistakes and weaknesses seem inevitable; you scrutinize but don't judge. The love rooted in these mistaken decisions, decisions whose consequences are pain, is always in plain view; You weep, not just for the agony, but because you can see the earnest intentions that led to it.
Lady Bird bursts from its trappings when it doesn’t prioritize quirk over character. It slips once, notably, in an argument between Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Steffans); a should-be milestone that’s instead mined for a boob joke (Julie’s Mom got a boob job, so she’s made two bad decisions in her life. Not just one). But Lady Bird has more to do than to perpetuate the world-build of a monopolized nostalgia. It's best at its most disarming, a shocking cry behind a coffee shop or an escalation of fury as Lady Bird decries her mother who pretends not to hear her howls.
Credit is due to Gerwig and her thespians for wheedling such a fat bird off the ground.
Lady Bird opened the 40th Denver Film Festival on November 1st.