Lady Bird is a thoughtful and engaging coming of age story that depicts the melodrama that occurs in some teenager’s lives. It shows a time when most adolescents are self-absorbed, yet still dependent on their relationships with their parents. As much as they think they have it figured out; they don’t at all. The film Lady Bird is actor and screenwriter Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, and from what I saw this is certainly an entrance into what will one day be a well-versed filmography to look back upon.
The story is told from 2002-2003 a time that felt much different than today’s social media driven world. Considering it was post-9/11, when fears were being inbred into society, people were still not yet tied to capturing every moment of the news, nor were teenagers tied to their cellphones. Lady Bird is the name that high school senior Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan) gave to herself because her given name just didn’t feel like her. She is filled with bravado, yet completely vulnerable to the realities of adolescence like heartbreak, rejection, and trying to fit in.
The film is set in Sacramento, CA, an agricultural sleepy city, where Lady Bird feels like nothing happens, she wants to move to New York City, “where the culture is,” as she tells her mom when she tries to convince her to let her apply to colleges on the East Coast. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) wants her to stay in California, where in-state tuition will be cheaper and where she can stay close to the family. Marion is one of the most passive-aggressive mother’s I have ever seen on screen. She loves Lady Bird, we can feel it, but she never tells her she looks pretty or that is she doing great with her life. Instead it is a constant barrage of comments that she is not smart enough to get into a good school, an unappreciative brat, and lacks any grasp on the realities of the world.
One of the best scenes in the film is when Marion tells Lady Bird to fold her catholic school uniform and to take care of it because they cannot afford to buy more clothes because her father just got laid off. Who would want to hire a man with a family who looks disheveled, she tells her. Lady Bird says to her that wouldn’t it be great to have a mom who wouldn’t always make you fold your clothes, to which her mother retorts with “well my mother was an abusive alcoholic,” and walks away. In that moment we see the whole reason perhaps why her mother behaves the way she does and in a sense Lady Bird feels, but doesn’t really get it yet because she is too young. It is a defining moment in understanding the paradigm in her relationship with her mother.
The film takes us through Lady Bird’s senior year, coupled with laugh out loud moments with her best friend, tenuous talks with school counselors, priests, and the head nun, and romantic possibilities and heartbreak. Gerwig gives us some teenage movie clichés, but she finds a way to mix them into feeling much more real and visceral, than other ones we have seen before.
Ronan carries the film differently than she did last year with Brooklyn, where with that character she was innocent and longing, here she is completely vulnerable and somewhat extreme. She pushes the envelope because her character demands it, to have held back too much, or in the hands of another actress, the character could have been unlikeable and maybe even a bit annoying. Instead Ronan infuses her as the girl we have sometimes felt like, the one who says awkward things and tries too hard, yet also the girl who knows how to say just the right thing.
Metcalf was brilliant, I could see both actresses getting an Oscar nomination. The rest of the supporting cast played beautifully against the two women, Tracy Letts as the father, compassionate and soft against two forceful women, and Lucas Hedges (from last year’s Oscar nominated Manchester by the Sea) as Danny, and Timothee Chalamet as Kyle, her two pseudo-love interests. There was also her best-friend Beanie Feldstein as Julie, the shy and quirky best-friend who shone much brighter than she did as the ditzy sorority girl in Neighbors 2. I enjoyed the fact that not once did the movie make any note of Julie’s weight, it was never an issue brought to light as it so many times in movies. Instead it was never even a point of distraction or mention, which lent to the way the story was told.
By the end we see that Lady Bird can fly, she just needs to learn how to navigate her wings properly along the way. I would recommend this film to viewers and believe that it is worth seeing over some of the big blockbuster hits that will be coming out soon. Definitely one to watch in my book.
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig
MPAA rating: R
Running time: 94 minutes