Chalk Lady Bird up as another essential modern coming of age story. And another indicator that Director/Writer Greta Gerwig is one of the most versatile and talented figures in the industry.
With senior year of high school underway, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is ready to make moves worthy of her self-appointed name of Lady Bird. She’s going to ditch the West Coast and go to a school in New York. Shoddy grades won’t deter her and she’ll quickly fill out her extracurricular checklist by signing up for the school play. But Lady Bird is too much of a rebel, which doesn’t always play that well in her strict Catholic private school.
Somewhat of an outcast, Lady Bird has largely been content with high school anonymity, but is ready to branch out beyond her friendship with fellow outsider Julie (Beanie Feldstein). This leads to Christine’s first love (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) and hanging with the school’s upper class on her journey of self discovery.
The film is set in the mid 2000s, but Gerwig has her ear to the millennial mindset where expectations of greatness with minimal hard work is the norm. Christine almost seems to go out of her way to stay oblivious. When the Great Recession hits her family, including her devoted father (Tracy Letts, The Post) and brother (Jordan Rodrigues), Christine is still largely focused on her dreams. While the rest of the family is content to let Christine run amok, her overbearing and hard to please mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is all to quick to dish out a reality check.
Ronan is such a fantastic actress there’s not a moment her performance lets up. She embraces the passion, quick changing emotions, moodiness and optimism of being a teenager with their life ahead of them. As much as I liked Brie Larson’s performance in Room, I thought Ronan deserved the 2016 Best Actress Oscar for her role in Brooklyn. Maybe this will be the year Ronan gets rewarded for her efforts.
Metcalf is really strong as well in a performance that seems to make her one of the forerunners for Best Supporting Actress hardware. It’s ironic that Lois Smith has a supporting role here as she’s another of my top supporting actress picks for her work in Marjorie Prime. It’s the relationship with Christine and Marion that rings so true and feels like a fractured parent/child relationship the audience will want to see restored by the end credits.
Gerwig gives her films an authenticity that doesn’t seem carefully manufactured. The characters are well-rounded and richly developed so no one is a one-note presence. Lady Bird’s diverse cast is also impressive as so many could have been filled with ‘traditional’ casting and not impact the characters, but adds a larger sense of Christine’s world. We’ll see how much the Academy Awards talk of inclusion was lip service if Gerwig gets overlooked on either directorial or screenwriting categories.
One of the smartest choices Gerwig makes is not forcing some big redemptive moment on Christine. Instead, Gerwig sews just enough seeds with a genuinely nice and thoughtful moment here and there to show Christine has the potential to be a better person. It would play far too disingenuous to create some major revelation where everything clicks for Lady Bird.
It’s that sense that Christine is still a work in progress that makes Lady Bird such an fascinating watch with enough intrigue to make a sequel viable.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Merie Wallace/A24