An actress-turned-director, helming her second film. A blunt comedy/drama about a mother and daughter, starring a young Academy Award nominee and a veteran Emmy winner from the nineties. A budget at approximately ten million in a city not widely known for being a setting in a major motion picture. These elements aligned perfectly and earned this independent film a spot as a nominee in the ultimate prize at the 90th Annual Academy Awards.
The film is Lady Bird, and it is my first subject in examining this year’s nominees for Best Picture.
It’s the tale of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a senior student in high school who dreams of attending an out of state, widely-known university in order to get out of her hometown of Sacramento, California. Aside from the obstacles of finding a love interest, making popular friends, raising her grades at her Catholic High School and applying to universities across the country, “Lady Bird” is constantly at odds with her mother no matter the situation. All this amounts to a tumultuous final year of high school for our protagonist in the early stages of the twenty-first century.
Residing less than thirty miles south of Sacramento and having worked in the city for nearly ten years, this film definitely caught my attention. The Capital City Freeway. The old Tower Records Building. Crossing over the American River. The Tower Bridge. Crest Theater, a spot where a short film starring yours truly appeared (yes… that was a shameless plug). So, I won’t lie. There’s plenty of local connection in this film to make me want to like it. However, there was more to this film then just “I live near where they filmed it.”
Writer/director Greta Gerwig, a Sacramento native, presents a tale of an odd protagonist at an important time in her life, dating back fifteen years. A young woman longing to get out of a city that she feels has confined her from achieving the artistic expression she so seeks. The script balances between off-beat dry humor and raw human emotion. It definitely has that indie film feel, but is well-paced and never feels like it spends too long in a moment or scene. I compare its pace to say a Scorsese film like The Departed and Casino. The important moments between daughter and mother or certain teachers become our full focus while the humorous scenes are written with a sharp wit in mind. Having written multiple projects but this only being her second time as director, Gerwig demonstrates a command behind the camera that many take years to achieve. I compare those previous Scorsese movies because I see that essence in her style. Her talent is undeniable and this film is only the beginning of what’s bound to be an amazing career.
The “cherry on top” to go along with a great script and disciplined vision is a masterful cast. Within the first few minutes, one cannot deny the on-screen chemistry between Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf’s Marion. In that opening scene, Ronan and Metcalf are easily believable as loving, but often at odds, mother and daughter. From that scene on, these two put on devoted performances that bring these characters to life and are the perfect addition to the formula to tell the story of these two stubborn ladies.
Lady Bird is nominated for five Academy Awards. Gerwig has received two nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. Ronan and Metcalf have garnered Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations, respectively, and it is one of the nine films nominated for Best Film. Sacramento natives well enjoy the film due to its setting and references, but it is not a film made just for those from Sacramento. It is a coming of age story told through the eyes of a strong-willed teenage girl who is on the verge of becoming an independent woman. A young female who feels she must escape the clutches of a controlling mother and the only home she has ever known, only to realize that maybe she has only seen things from one perspective. It is the story of an odd and unique love between mother and daughter that survives all battles and obstacles. A story written, directed and starring superbly talented women.
This is Lady Bird.