Lady Bird, 2017.
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush, Kathryn Newton, Andy Buckley, Daniel Zovatto, Jordan Rodrigues, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith.
The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.
In the hands of many other writers, the titular, self-proclaimed Lady Bird – real name Christine McPherson played by renowned Irish actress Saoirse Ronan – would come across as whiny, entitled, and unlikable to the point where the entire film comes crumbling down. Fortunately, Greta Gerwig is unlike most writers, as her directorial debut is a charmer that explores the complex bond between a mother and daughter on the cusp of adulthood. Bolstering the heated arguments are the pair’s opposing yet similar personalities; we get the sense that 30 or 40 years ago Marion (the strict, authoritative, but loving mother Laurie Metcalf embodies) was exactly like Lady Bird before fully maturing and that we’re watching clones clash.
Most of the fighting tends to be about Lady Bird’s future that the poor family can’t fully support (Lady Bird ashamedly refers to her home as being on the “wrong side of the tracks”), especially with the recent laying off of her father Larry (Tracy Letts against type as a quietly depressed, easygoing dad that holds the group together). Arguments regarding Lady Bird’s heart dead-set on getting the hell away from Sacramento (which she hilariously refers to as the Midwest of California) to attend a College in New York where “culture exists” will possibly come across as off-putting and snobbish to some, but the dialogue and performance effectively portray this as strong-willed ambition more than anything. It’s also not very surprising that Lady Bird is such a fiercely determined young woman, as the character is semi-autobiographical of Greta Gerwig’s life.
What ensues is a freewheeling dramedy that spans 1-2 years of Lady Bird’s life, going through typical female high school experiences. She has a best friend played by Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s very funny sister) and school theater partner that she essentially kicks to the curb after a while (one of the more unsavory acts the character commits, although one that is part of her journey of growing up and find where she fits in), wins different boyfriends along the way, and amasses knowledge and an understanding of what she truly wants. On paper, none of these concepts are very refreshing, but the success is all in the witty comedic dialogue and sharp observations that capture the early 2000’s, a time of drastic changes among many workforces.
Continuing on with that thought, one of Lady Bird’s greatest strengths are the complexities of the characters surrounding the bullheaded youngster, who all have their own dilemmas engagingly brought out despite their very limited screen time. Honestly, there are multiple characters ranging from various friends over the years to her own father (there is a warmness in personality and tenderness in their relationship that we, unfortunately, don’t get to see enough of) who could have benefited from slightly more material. With that said, some of the film’s astute ascertainment of the world slowly entering a more digital age, political studies post-9/11, and close-mindedness on homosexuality are enough to give these elements weight.
It’s also a remarkable accomplishment that Greta Gerwig can juggle all of these multiple, intersecting storylines that play out over an extended period of time without blowback from developing each character. Although it feels like there could be more, part of that is just because the movie is so damn charming and good. The decision to place Lady Bird in a Catholic school also allows for a refreshing take on the sub-genre, along with biblical passages that overtly speak and relate to the themes of Lady Bird, such as uncertain futures and trepidation on what to do next. There’s also a scene where a football coach subs in for theater lessons, drawing out an entire scene on the whiteboard as if it was a football play, then walking the talent through it as if he was John Madden; it’s absolutely hysterical.
Lady Bird is an exceptional debut film from Greta Gerwig that uses her tight script and personal life experience to generate another awards-worthy performance from Saoirse Ronan. Even the supporting cast which includes a number of outstanding young actors (Lucas Hedges from last year’s Manchester by the Sea and the upcoming Call Me by Your Name‘s breakout star Timothée Chalamet) work up a great degree of emotional investment.
However, the primary reason Lady Bird is such a charmingly brilliant film is due to how Greta Gerwig genuinely understands coming-of-age struggles, whether the problems are serious or inconsequential over-worrying from teenagers. She has a firm grasp on their behavior, some characters do hurtful things; some are unforgivable, while others are due to being young. It’s all relatable and arresting to watch unfold, with a heartwarming closing shot that will make you want to call your Mama and tell her you love her.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com