Film review: LADYBIRD, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

As an actress Great Gerwig has defined screwball quirkiness in a series of wryly amusing, at times poignant roles in films from directors such as partner Noah Baumbach. Now she takes the reins as both writer and director in the yes, very quirky but charming and often touching teen dramedy Ladybird.

Like a younger incarnation of the director, Saoirse Ronin stars as the title character, a droll, intellectually gifted but wayward teen struggling with high school romantic misadventures and a well-meaning but hyper-judgemental mother (Laurie Metcalf).

Desperate to escape the blandness of her Sacramento catholic schoolgirl existence, Christine, or as she likes to be known, Ladybird dreams of flitting off to an east coast college where she can imbibe what she envisions will be a more enlightened culture. In the meantime she has to cope with her mother’s constant criticism of her choices and her teen romantic traumas with the likes of the pretentious Kyle (Timothee Chalamet).

Mixing comedy and drama in a style reminiscent of Noah Baumbach and employing a low budget aesthetic that at times recalls Napoleons Dynamite, Gerwig has made this is very typical piece of American indie-style filmmaking.

Gerwig’s insightful script honestly captures a smart teen’s exuberant hope and snarky cynicism, something that wouldn’t have been as fresh and compelling if it wasn’t for Ronin’s note-perfect performance. As Ladybird’s tightly wound mother Laurie Metcalfe is both infuriating and deeply moving as she struggles to connect with a daughter she doesn’t fully understand. Tracy Letts is also a warm if underused presence as Ladybird’s soft-hearted dad.

The film occasionally slips into overly familiar quirkiness with stereotyped oddballs such as her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) staring blankly at the camera or her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) playing it like she’s in a John Waters movie but it never loses its appeal. Some audience members were shrieking with laughter at its screwball vision of teen life while others had only a faint smile but it would be very difficult to dislike this movie.

The film feels like it might be heading into Mean Girls territory at one stage as a confused ladybird tries to ingratiate herself to the school’s alpha queen clique although that story thread doesn’t completely evolve.

Ladybird has its flaws and is a little familiar in places but Gerwig’s clever, perceptive writing and appropriately low-key direction and Ronin’s wonderful performance give the film an ineffable charm.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Comedy/ drama/ teen movie.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Greta Gerwig.

Release date: 15th Feb 2018.

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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