Greta Gerwig, the meek and mild mannered actress whose signature style has landed her great supporting and lead roles in the acclaimed films “20th Century Women” and “Jackie” among many more makes her writing and directing debut and she’s knocking it out of the park. “Lady Bird,” stars Saoirse Ronan as the impetuous teen ready to leave the nest. Struggling with her family’s financial abilities to provide her the opportunities she so very much wants and her lack of dedication in the high school classroom, Lady Bird aka Christine attempts to figure out life and her future. Her senior year adventures take us all down memory lane, creating a poignantly funny and meaningful story.
The first scene sets the tone for the entire film. Lady Bird (Ronan) and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are driving down the road discussing college plans and visits. What starts out as a nice conversation, quickly escalates and Lady Bird exits the conversation by opening up the car door and literally bailing. At once horrifying, but at the same time hilarious, we, as mothers or daughters have all been there. It’s the amplification of the classic eye roll.
The film is seen through Lady Bird’s eyes as she makes every attempt to leave her middle class California suburban life and go to edgy New York City for college. Pumping up her academic profile, she joins the theater group, but weighing out her new-found options, she ditches best friends and travels down a new, accelerated path. Along the way, she loses her virginity, discovers secrets, and constantly tugs and tears at those apron strings. It’s all part of growing up, and “Lady Bird” beautifully portrays this difficult and very important time.
The writing and the dialogue set this film apart from anything we’ve seen this year. The relationships, particularly with her mother and father are developed with a richness and sincerity that bring these characters into a sense of reality. She’s closer with her father than her mother, yet Lady Bird is a typical teen with her unending judgmental and explosive reactions. She’s still learning about life, obviously, but it is her growth as a young adult that is sheer beauty to watch unfold.
Gerwig’s skillful direction of seasoned actors gives the film charm and depth. Ronan transforms herself into a young Gerwig, complete with the same speech patterns and body language we’ve seen from Gerwig in the past. Ronan embodies a typical teen giving a nuanced performance that allows us to understand her and perhaps even ourselves many years ago. Tracy Letts is Larry, Lady Bird’s father who has hit upon hard times with work. He’s also the peacekeeper in the family as Lady Bird and her mother don’t see eye to eye…on anything. Being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs and both Letts and Metcalf exemplify the emotional tug of war that children make us play. Metcalf’s character is tough yet beneath that hardened exterior, we know she loves her daughter and is doing the best she can. Her words are harsh, cutting through Lady Bird’s delicate psyche with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. The damage is done, but with the softness and understanding of Lett’s character, there’s a chance for healing.
LadyBird’s friendships are key to her growth as she falls in and out of love with Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) and Danny (Lucas Hedges), but it is her best friend Diana (Laura Marano) who takes the brunt of Lady Bird’s fallout as she gets dumped for the sake of the popular girls. Lady Bird is in constant inner turmoil, wrestling with right and wrong, good and bad, and attempting to set and achieve her goals. Everything she experiences reminds us as to why we would never in a million years go back to those high school days!
“Lady Bird” is a feel-good, coming of age movie that any teen or parent can relate to on many different levels. The heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking growth we witness in all of the characters will engage your very soul. Gerwig is making a huge impact with her debut film and I look forward to seeing whatever her sophomore attempt may be.
To watch an interview from the Austin Film Festival with Gerwig by Linda Lerner of MoviesandShakers.com, go to the interview