Writer/Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Stephen McKinley, Henderson
Greta Gerwig has made a name for herself in the indie film world starring in 20th Century Women and by writing and starring in two Noah Baumbach films, Frances Ha and Mistress America. She makes her directorial debut with Lady Bird with Saoirse Ronan playing the quintessential Gerwig type of character. She plays Christine who’s at that age when she’s really struggling with her identity. It’s her senior year of high school, and she will need to make some tough decisions about her final year and what she wants after she graduates. She’s sporting a new moniker “Lady Bird” to assist in her transition period. Her mother, Marion (Metcalf), isn’t always the most supportive person as she’s always offering Lady Bird unsolicited advice. Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Feldstein) decide to join the drama club which helps give her the culture she feels she’s missing out on. This sense of culture is part of her desire to move to the east coast for college. Naturally, Marion is having none of this decision. The rest of senior year finds Lady Bird falling in love with a gay classmate, feeling the pressure to have sex, applying to colleges, and of course, fighting with her mom.
Shortly after realizing that Greta Gerwig sets her movie in a Catholic high school, I felt somewhat at home with the world she creates. Having been a student of Catholic education my whole life, I could easily settle back into all of those old memories that came rushing back to me. If you’ve seen any of Gerwig’s previous films, you know she has a distinct voice, which is ever present in Lady Bird. There’s an offbeat curiosity and independence with her characters. Only she would have the drama club select Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along as their fall musical. It’s a lesser known work and strange choice than say Oklahoma or Guys and Dolls. She even captures that awkward feeling when the football coach has to step in and pretend to know something about theater. This leads to one of the film’s funniest moments when he’s trying to block and choreograph the show only using a chalk board.
It’s absurd, yet nothing rings false with any of Gerwig’s characters. It’s refreshing to see high school characters that look and feel like your average high schooler. Lady Bird and Julie lament about wanting to be like the pretty girls, yet it never feels whiny. Not one of Gerwig’s characters feel like your standard CW/MTV cookie cutter character. She gives equal weight and importance to everyone’s arc instead of just making it about Lady Bird. Beanie Feldstein’s Julie is completely charming and has a crush on their younger, cuter teacher. Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges also shines as Lady Bird’s crush Danny who is also struggling with his own identity. Who wasn’t in their senior year of high school?
Lady Bird’s not just about a bunch of high school kids counting down the clock until they’ve hit some form of freedom. Gerwig aptly gives Lady Bird’s parents the values and heart that ground the film. Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne, Scream 2) gives a lovely performance as her mother without ever turning her character into a monster. You really feel she has a dear love for her daughter even if she says and does the wrong thing ninety percent of the time. The film opens with a car ride between the two and the eye rolls and stares out the window give evidence to an on and off tension between them. Lady Bird is closer to her father, played by the endearing Tracy Letts. They have that special “Don’t tell Mom” kind of relationship.
Lady Bird never seems pretentious or overly hipster. It’s quite funny throughout while touching the heart at just the precise moment. It is truly one of the best coming of age movies released in years. It may seem like a fun and innocent high school romp kind of movie, but then Greta Gerwig hits you about an hour when you realize how much you have come to care about all of these characters. As the title character, Saoirse Ronan lights up the screen. She will no doubt score her third Oscar nomination, following Atonement and Brooklyn, for this film. It’s quite the accomplishment for someone of her age. Ronan is a natural on screen making distinct choices with every role. She gives Lady Bird a soft and feminine side but with an edge to go along with it. She isn’t the sulky teen we often seen in these types of movies. She may remind you of yourself at that age or other friends caught in that senior year transition. Many teens think they have their act together, but in reality, they haven’t the faintest idea. Lady Bird speaks to that concept of identity and the names and labels we feel comfortable placing on ourselves. There’s an authenticity with what Gerwig brings to the screen as a writer and director, which can’t be denied.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is worthy of all the accolades.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
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