“What if this is the best version”.
When did you grow up? I am now 57, and I’m still “working towards”! I remember distinctly though at the age of 16 thinking “I’ve got there”. And then again at 18. And then again at 21. And then again at 25…. There is something sweet about the certainty of youth that only life’s ultimate experiences can roughen the edges of.
“Lady Bird”, the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, features one such teen who thinks she knows it all. Looking and acting for all the world like a 15 year old (something that Margot Robbie really can’t pull off in “I, Tonya”) Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson who has the given name (“I gave the name to myself”) of ‘Lady Bird’. She is struggling with a lot of issues: an unreasonable and overbearing (parents: read ‘perfectly reasonably but firm’) mother (Laurie Metcalf, “Roseanne”); the issues of puberty and young love; the constrictions of a Catholic school she despises; and her inability to perform to the grades she needs to get into a college of her choice. That choice being on the East coast as far away from the backwater of Sacremento (“the mid-west of California” – LoL) as she can get.
Love comes in the form of two serial male fixations: the gorgeous and artistic Danny (Lucas Hedges, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, “Manchester By The Sea”) and the aloof and enigmatic Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”).
This is a near perfect coming of age film. The plot, while fairly superficial and covering ground well-trodden before, fully engages you and makes the running time just fly by. And there is just so much talent on show. The script by Gerwig is chocker-block full of great and memorable lines; Ronan is pitch-perfect as the irascible and cock-sure teen; Tracy Letts (“The Post“) is magnificent in the less showy role as the “good cop” dad, struggling invisibly with his own demons; and Metcalf gives an Oscar-nominated performance that really should give Alison Janney a run for her money… a drive away from an airport conveys just perfectly every college-age parent’s emotional low-point.
Where perhaps the film overplays its hand a bit is in the “wrong side of the tracks” line. The household while struggling is by no means trailer-park poor (compare and contrast with “I, Tonya”): perhaps this is the depths of financial desperation found in Sacremento? But I doubt it… there still seems to be money available for fancy cowgirl outfits.
Which leads me to the rating, which seems to have been a common rant in the last few weeks. I would have thought that there was nothing like this film to turn the mirror of reasonableness on a young teen, perhaps helping them to treat their parents better, work harder for college or make better choices. Yet it has a UK 15 certificate. And for what? There is a full frontal male photo-spread in “Playgirl” (I want to say “it’s a penis, get over it”, but if forced I would have frankly just snipped the 50 milliseconds out to get the lower rating). And there are a few (only a few) F- and C- words. I have the same problem here as with “Phantom Thread” – here is a high-class film that a young teen audience would absolutely love to see. I think the BBFC have got it wrong again here.
I cannot recommend this film enough: a tale of teenage life love and resolution that is hard to beat. Possibly one of the best coming of age tales I’ve ever seen. On the basis that it looks like I will never get to see “Call Me By Your Name” – the only major one I’ve missed – before this Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, what a great way to round off my Oscar-viewing season.
Fad Rating: FFFFF.