‘Lady Bird’: A disguised mother-daughter drama (Review)

Film: “Lady Bird”; Director: Greta Gerwig; Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf; Rating: *** ½

There is a lot of what one would call window-dressing in a very positive way. But at its heart, “Lady Bird” is a pure simple heartfelt mother-daughter saga told with a sense of whimsical wisdom that comes only from experience.

Saoirse Ronan plays with sturdy balance, the troublesome rebellious daughter in the small soporific suburban town of Sacramento (US) where nothing happens and everything that happens, happens for the blessed.

Ronan plays Christine who likes to be known by the ridiculous name of ‘Lady Bird’. No one objects, not even her mother. You know you can’t argue with a rebellious teenaged daughter. Might as well give in.

“Lady Bird” is cinema that captures that soaring sense of surrender to the friction that separates a parent from the child after he or she reaches a certain age.

The plot relies on small portions of shock waves, like little scoops of bitter chocolate during a sparing meal, to create loops of ongoing adventures in Christine/Lady Bird’s ostensibly uninteresting life shared with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) whom Christine abandons to befriend the school snob Jenna (Odeya Rush).

Then there are two boys in our exasperating heroine’s life. Danny who turns out to be gay. And Kyle who turns out to be her first….ummm…lust. Providentially, Danny and Kyle are played by two very fine young actors Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet.

A lot of the hefty gleam that Lady Bird emanates comes from the amazing acting talent, none more so than the tried-and-tested Laurie Metcalf who as the mother brings a steely grit to what could have easily been a whining complaining working-class mother’s part.

But I’ve seen better depictions of a troubled mother-daughter relationship in the astounding series “Big Little Lies” where Reese Witherspoon’s exasperated anxieties towards her daughter seemed more truthful.

Not that Lady Bird’s choppy bonding with her mother is anything less that honest. It’s done with the kind of ferocious scrupulosity that one sees in a child painting a mountain landscape from memory. But it is not compelling in the way Great Cinema makes troublesome child-parent relationships look in films like Postcard From The Edge and Autumn Sonata.

There is an abundance of memory-driven images in Lady Bird, of times that were sadly embittered when they ought to have been happy.

That showdown in the car which ends with the daughter jumping out of the speeding vehicle, that warm hug with her first boyfriend after she knows he’s gay, that reconciliatory phone call to the mother at the end….

This is all familiar territory trodden in this film with the smothered pride of a child wiser than her years painting a landscape that she has etched from a remote yet vivid memory.

This is a film that will annoy and charm you. What you will carry home is the portrait of the mother’s anguished love for a truant daughter etched vividly on Laurie Metcalf’s face. Surely a performance as bright and bleeding as Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”.

“Lady Bird” is not about a bereaved mother. But it sure as hell portrays the ire of a mother who can’t cope with her daughter’s whimsicality. See the film to see a rather distended mirror image of your relationship with your own child when he or she was growing up and growing apart.

By Subhash K. Jha

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