Movie Review: ‘LADY BIRD’ soars above most coming-of-age stories
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
There’s something poignant about the reckless abandon of a teenager looking for their own form of protest. The honesty and hilarity seeps out of adolescence with an organic truth about the person they’re becoming. The best coming-of-age stories have an effortless honesty that shows every awkward moment that’s cringing and endearing. Greta Gerwig (MISTRESS AMERICA, FRANCES HA) has elevated herself as a formidable on-screen talent, a writer that delves into humanity, and now a director who has a full-fledged storytelling vision.
Gerwig’s first film as a director, LADY BIRD, is painfully universal and an empowering tale for both women and men alike. Right out of the gate, the eponymous star, Saoirse Ronan (BROOKLYN), has broken new ground for herself as an artist playing a young woman who is quintessentially American during a year in her life (2002-2003). Complete with faded pinkish hair and acne, this role feels lived-in — and while Ronan isn’t capitalizing on the “Holly-weird” aesthetic, she play the role with an authenticity you just can’t quantify with this acting talent. This isn’t Ronan’s first time embodying a character with this depth, but this is the first time she feels like an acting talent plucked from obscurity.
While living in the lower-middle class of Sacramento, California, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Ronan) is bumbling through life as another face in the crowd at her Catholic school. She likes a couple guys (Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet) and has a few friends – some real (Beanie Feldstein) and others fake (Odeya Rush) – but Gerwig never fauns over the nostalgia of growing up.
Essentially this is a story of screwing up and rediscovering oneself, and there’s never shame in that. At the film’s core is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) who complains about doubles at the hospital and refuses to call her daughter by her pseudonym. At a brisk 93 minutes, LADY BIRD is a film without limits; we never feel the manipulation of its filmmaker, despite the fact that this is a story about family. There are constant struggles we face with the people that know us best. The abhorrent comments made from Marion come from a place of frustration, rather than hate. There are years of history Gerwig decidedly doesn’t show; the tiny cuts, which have now become scars, are only hinted at.
They say write what you know, and like her writing collaborations with Noah Baumbach (FRANCES HA), LADY BIRD comes from a personal place. Gerwig doesn’t make an appearance, but her voice is all around the script. Gerwig has been a student of the film game since her 2007 debut in the Duplass brothers’ HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS. She clearly picked up filmmaking tricks that may have superseded her contemporaries. Gerwig let’s the filmmaking tell the story of the seemingly mundane existence of a woman who is (not quite) punk, not quite prep — she falls somewhere in the middle, but is wholly unique even if she doesn’t quite know it yet. And that’s the beauty of the film: There’s not a clear destination. We just exist with the laundry list of characters.
LADY BIRD fills its restless heart with keen observations from its youthful protagonist — Well, because Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson has the time and the head space to occupy her mind with quips and social oddities. Gerwig’s film isn’t quirky for the sake of quirks; she connects her themes of family, faith and freedom into a wheel of curiosity that allows you travel along and gain a unique perspective that hasn’t graced the theaters this year. This is one of the strongest debut’s in recent years, and this is a gift we can now all share with each other.
LADY BIRD is now playing in limited release, and opens in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 17.