Greta Gerwig’s debut is quite simply a delight – so wonderfully fresh and warm that it seems set on another planet rather than the American teen universe we usually see on screen. It does traverse banally familiar territory though – and we follow “Lady Bird” – the pretentious name 17-year-old Christine (Saorsie Ronan) has given herself – as she’s about to leave the cloistered world of parents and high school and sally forth into the real world. All the elements of the coming-of-age genre are there, the fights, misunderstandings, and disastrous first sexual encounters. One of those is with Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) a sullen rich kid who explains that he “no longer believes in money”, that he’ll get everything he needs by bartering. That’s typical of the film’s satire, the script is zesty and spikey but never mean-spirited. Most all, it displays a tenderness and understanding towards all its characters (especially Christine’s prickly mother played by Laurie Metcalf) that seems totally at odds with both modern sensibilities, and even the writer/director’s public personae.
Lately Gerwig has typically been seen as embodying the knowingly cynical spirit of hip Brooklyn (Francis Ha, Maggie’s Plan)– the place 17-year-old Lady Bird dreams of escaping to – if only she can escape the boredom of her small Californian town and get to that mythical big city of endless possibilities. In her last film Mistress America, on which she collaborated with her real-life partner Noah Baumbach, Gerwig plays the woman the sweet and intelligent Lady Bird may turn into – a relentlessly self-serving thirty-something NY-er, well-read and bright but clearly going nowhere. The wondrous beauty of her first solo film, which is clearly very autobiographical, is that it indicates in real life, that didn’t happen.
Also opening this week
The success of last year’s Wonder Woman now means that super-hero movies carry all sorts of ideological baggage and social expectations. Hence Black Panther – its super hero is isn’t a white male and it features no damsels in distress. All its women are black and powerful, but really, haven’t we all moved on from the politics of race and class? Until Superman is transgendered or at least spends his down time as Lois Lane, Hollywood is just playing catch-up. Not previewed, but playing everywhere.
Reviews – Russell Edwards