More noise than signal

Lady Bird

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Life in sleepy Sacramento, CA seems like a dull series of disappointments to teenage Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who would very much like to leave her Christian school and escape to the faster pace of an East coast university. Unfortunately, this seems to be a dream that’s not compatible with either her families current economic state, or indeed her current grades.

This leads Lady Bird into a seemingly continual argument with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), about pretty much every aspect of her life, in a way that eventually edges over the usual teenage awkwardness into being quite openly disrespectful and ungrateful towards her family.

At school, growing pains continue when she finds out that her idyllic, theatre loving boyfriend is gay, but soon meets Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the apparently cool local musician with a fine line in conspiracy theories and other lies about his personal life, and before long Lady Bird is projecting an entirely different view of her family’s situation and moving in a different social circle than her previous best friend. When, with a sad inevitability, this comes crashing down, she’s left alone, but not for long, as this is one of those rare films where schoolkids are reasonable people and not reenacting the Lord of the Flies.

And, well, so it goes, providing a slice of maybe a year of the life of Lady Bird, with a constant dry wit, very good, entirely believable performances and characters, and a coming of age story that’s not based around a dramatic, singular trauma, but the much more mundane, tiny slings and arrows that graze us until the point we think we’ve gained enough scar tissue to call ourselves an adult.

I’m unreliably informed by the internet that this, of the year’s Oscar contenders, has the biggest gulf between critical acclaim and audience acceptance. I suppose I can see why, as it has a very dry sense of humour across the piece that is perhaps not to everyone’s taste. I however, am British, and we like our humour so dry that it may not technically be humour any more, so it’s very much to my taste.

As mentioned earlier, it’s great to see a teen drama that has people acting like, well, real people, and a school that’s not a set of cliques on the verge of going Battle Royale on each other. Even the characters other media has trained us to expect to be horrible people, such as the pretty rich kid Lady Bird becomes friends with, are just normal, not-pointlessly obnoxious humans just trying to get on with life.

You could, I suppose, argue that there’s not a lot of narrative meatiness to get your teeth into – this is a character study in the main, but when it’s doing that this well, this charmingly, then there’s no reason to think of that as a negative. Likewise a few scenes that do a great deal to inform character, but otherwise feel rather like they belong to a different story, such as Lady Bird’s mother counselling the old theatre teacher are a little odd, in the overarching scheme of things, but great scenes on their own merit. What sort of monster would complain about that?

It also contains my favourite bit part character of the year, the American football coach drafted in to enthusiastically teach the school theatre production by his old playbook.

Very enjoyable, and well worth watching, even despite the complete lack of exploding robots.