Lady Bird Review
The opening minutes of Lady Bird accomplish so much in so little time that it will likely leave you breathless. A mother and daughter are returning to Sacramento after the traditional senior-year road trip to visit college campuses. The two are listening to an audio cassette of a book — in this case, The Grapes of Wrath — and sigh tearily as the book concludes. This idyllic scene disappears quickly as the two erupt into an argument centering around the daughter’s post-graduation desire to flee to the East Coast. This marks the introduction to 17-year-old Christine McPherson, the self-proclaimed Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan). Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) strikes back with an inexorable wave of parental passive-aggressiveness. What follows this argument is one of the better female-led coming-of-age stories since the Golden Era of John Hughes. There are subtle echoes of Pretty in Pink throughout the film, from a father who is down on his luck (Tracy Letts) to classic pop oldies that litter the soundtrack (Dave Matthews Band is featured in one of my favorite scenes).
Saoirse Ronan’s performance as the titular Lady Bird is absolutely the draw here. Oftentimes, she gives herself and everyone around her a hard time. This is due to her insistence on asserting her individuality, even when she doesn’t quite know what it means. She embodies the typical teenager well; a mixture of self-assurance and insecurity wrapped up in contradictory and confusing impulses. However, Metcalf’s performance as her habitually disappointed mother Marion gives Ronan a run for her money. From a few fleeting smiles and facial expressions, Metcalf imbues Marion’s sardonic and biting attitude with just the barest hint of parental love. This makes the arguments and stinging remarks that Marion and Christine exchange all the more intense and heartbreaking.
Beanie Feldstein puts in a bubbly performance as Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie, a gifted math student who swoons over their handsome math teacher. Feldstein and Ronan’s chemistry is remarkable, as the two turn chowing down on communion wafers into one of the funniest scenes of 2017. Lucas Hedges and Timotée Chalamet put in quirky and nuanced performances as Lady Bird’s crushes. Hedges plays the too-perfect boyfriend that Lady Bird meets in drama class. Following a betrayal that strays from the typical coming-of-age norm, Hedges imbues Lucas with a more tragic air, giving the character more depth than he possessed initially. Chalamet, on the other hand, is the dirtbag boyfriend that lives a life of comfort. Of the two, I found Hedges’ performance more compelling.
This film was the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig. As a solo directing debut by an actor, Lady Bird is a home-run. The script is exceptionally well-written and suffused with wit. Furthermore, there’s a level of authenticity to this film that hints at the semi-autobiographical nature of the script. Clearly, Gerwig poured herself into this script. There are a myriad of parallels between Gerwig and her titular character here. However, the greatest accomplishment of Lady Bird is that it imbues one of the most rose-colored and cliché-riddled genres in American cinema with freshness. All of the characters appear like common teenage stereotypes; however, they’re treated with a nuance that helps them stand out as more than cookie-cutter personas.
Overall, Lady Bird is a fantastic directorial debut. The end of this film was one of the most satisfying endings of any film I saw in 2017. It provided me with the bittersweet feeling of having watched the evolution of another person. You get to see Lady Bird grow into a different and somewhat improved version of herself. This is a messy, interminable process at the best of times, and one of the reasons we need movies. Simply put, this film is one of the best of 2017.