Thursday, May 31, 2018

In short: Lady Bird (2017)

Unlike I, Tonya the other film concerned with class that was nominated for all the large film prices last year, and about which I can only speak through clenched teeth, Greta Gerwig’s coming of age story about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan, as genuinely fantastic as she always is) growing up in Sacramento actually understands things about class. Specifically about how being part of a family of the lowest rung of the middle-class (only a catastrophe away from becoming the working poor) can feel, not just about how large parts of one’s future are determined by the class and place into which one is born but how that knowledge grinds one down, one way or the other. The film’s not exactly about that, though, or rather, the class element is just a piece of a film that talks about how it feels to be a somewhat strange young woman in a place nobody will confuse with the centre of the world, about the complications of the love of family and home, growing up, sexual awakening, and half a dozen other things.

In a highly impressive balancing act, Gerwig manages to let riotously funny scenes follow moments of great sadness, moments of the absurd those of great veracity, as well as the other way round, without that ever feeling like grating shifts in tone but as logical consequences of the characters and the town the film takes place in. The film often feels light as a feather; it comes about these moments of lightness not by ignoring depths and the abyss but by facing them, un-dramatically and dramatically.

Honestly, I didn’t think Gerwig had a film I’d find quite this moving (my heart and brain in many directions) in her, for quite a bit of her other work as a writer I’ve seen (Frances Ha and its circling of comparable themes being an obvious exception) tends to keep a wall of irony between her and her characters, distancing the audience from too much emotional involvement with them as well. In Lady Bird, the writer/director still uses irony and distance, but now it’s the distance of someone taking a step or two back to be able to watch more closely and understand more precisely.

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