I do this with a few features in the cinema—see them again with someone who hasn’t seen it, and thereby gather another impression—partly just for checking out something I think is worthy of another look, and partly for hashing it out after the lights come up, which often brings fresh revelations. And what better time for a revisit of Lady Bird than just as it’s earned five Oscar nods?
I didn’t love Lady Bird nearly as much as some I know—my full review is here—but I liked it enough for it to appear as a runner-up on my Top 10 of 2017 list. The attention its been getting at the awards circuit—largely for Saoirse Ronan in the lead—and the passionate advocacy from local cineastes had me wanting to go again before it left cinemas.
I recognized Greta Gerwig’s delightful semi-autobiographical touches in my first take, the solid casting and the fully fledged performances all around. Everything here feels authentic, from Lady Bird’s problems with her mother, her real connection with her friend Julie, and her ups and downs with her boyfriends, with Danny’s heartbreaking sexual confusion and Kyle’s self-involvement somehow still making him irresistible. Gerwig could have called her movie Scenes From Senior Year In Sacramento.
I also felt that Gerwig’s quirk, her native theatricality, kept me at arms length. On a second viewing that didn’t hold quite as true. My favourite moments of the film delivered real emotion: I loved and wanted more of Danny and Lady Bird outside the cafe when he asks her to keep his secret, more of Lady Bird and Julie hanging together, and more of Lady Bird spending time with her father.
What I noticed this time out was more of the humour. The script sparkles with it, and I found myself laughing and appreciating it even more than the first time around. This is a coming-of-age picture, but it’s also a comedy that really works thanks to a host of terrific supporting roles and dead-on line deliveries.
The sharp laughs in the script drives home for me the idea that there would be no Gerwig, or Noah Baumbach, for that matter, without the work of Woody Allen. It’s not a popular thing to acknowledge right now, but the debt they owe him is undeniable. As difficult as it is for a cinephile like me to come to terms with what we’re hearing about Allen, it must be especially tough for writer-directors who’ve absorbed so much of their style from him. It took a few tries for Gerwig to come to terms in public her regret for having worked as an actor on one of his projects.
A couple of other realizations:
Marion (played by Laurie Metcalf), is awful. If you look online you’ll find a cottage industry of think pieces about whether or not Gerwig is depicting child abuse in her film. I didn’t think so at first, but watching it again I’ve changed my mind. I appreciate that Lady Bird learns to appreciate her given name, home, and upbringing, but I also think that she turned out as reasonable and rational as she is with Marion as her mother is a minor miracle.
A lot of low budget films use an indie aesthetic as a gritty strength to help provide a sense of realism, while a lot of comedies don’t bother much with a sense of place. Lady Bird feels like it’s somewhere in the middle. I’ve thought a lot about Columbus since it screened at Carbon Arc, and how Kogonada was so deliberate with the use of the camera and sound to help enrich a fairly slight story. Gerwig chooses a few well-placed songs on the soundtrack to deliver some requisite feels—I’ll not think about the Dave Matthew Band again in the same way—but otherwise aside from a couple landmarks, we don’t get a great sense of Sacramento. I wish we did. Some of that is visual, but a lot has to do with sound, incidental and otherwise.
I don’t think Lady Bird is a great film, but there’s no doubt it’s a very good one, especially for Gerwig’s first solo flight. Gerwig and, especially, Ronan, deserve a lot of the attention for what they’ve accomplished here. I understand Frances McDormand is the favourite for Best Actress at the Oscars for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but I’d be thrilled if Ronan went home with the award. She’s a talent for the ages.