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First Look Review: Lady Bird

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of attending a screening at the London Film Festival. Leicester Square was hosting a ‘Surprise Film’ screening on Saturday night. In previous years the LFF Surprise film has been Birdman and Silver Linings Playbook and I was excited to see what offering they had this year. 

The Surprise Film turned out to be Lady Bird, the directorial debut of American actress and filmmaker, Greta Gerwig. The film stars Saoirse Ronan in the titular role of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, and the story follows a year of her life as she prepares to leave high school and go off to college, with all the troubles and turmoil that entails. It’s a character film, centred on the prominent relationships in Lady Bird’s life, and in particular her female relationships; it’s a different kind of love story.

This is something that Greta Gerwig identified in the Q&A afterwards with the BFI’s Tricia Tuttle, saying, “The working title for the movie had been ‘Mothers And Daughters’ because that was the grand love story for me.” And boy, does it show. Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are incredible together on screen, boasting a beautifully authentic chemistry in both the tough and the tender moments.

Part of the beauty of Lady Bird is its universality; despite being on the surface a highly specific story rooted in Sacramento, we can all see something of ourselves in Lady Bird’s arc, not least through her encounters with her classmates and the opposite sex. Gerwig tells Lady Bird’s tale with a sensitivity and wit that pulls you in, and invites you to see yourself reflected back. And there are so many facets to Lady Bird’s journey, and the different relationships that bring both conflict and love into her life, that I think you would be hard-pressed not to find something you can identify with, especially as a young woman.

This film is also a refreshing way to tell a coming of age story revolving around a young woman, in that it’s not predicated on a ‘perfect’ romance. There’s not this one boy that she’s meant to be with and the resolution comes only when that has been realised; there are more romantic encounters here, and they come second to the relationships Lady Bird has with her friends (particularly the loveable Julie) and her mother. It’s a story about women, told by women, and that gives the whole thing yet another layer of authenticity.

With roughly a quarter of the films shown at LFF this year being directed by women, the conversation during the Q&A naturally turned to the subject of females in the film industry. Saoirse Ronan eloquently answered the question of how it was different to be directed by a female director in comparison to a male director, stating that male or female isn’t what makes a difference – the individual way a director works, regardless of gender, is what changes with each project. And while to me this seemed an irrelevant question, change of any kind will only come about if we talk about and address the issue – this year the stats are up 5% from the 2015 festival, where only 20% of films were from female filmmakers. So change is happening.

Lady Bird was a delightful surprise, despite Gerwig’s backstage concerns: “Are they going to be really disappointed it’s not Thor?” Given the rapturous applause the film received, I’d say she needn’t have worried.

Lady Bird‘s UK release is set for 29th December. Image source: LATimes.com