Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalfe, Bennie Feldstein, Tracy Letts, Marielle Scott, Jordan Rodrigues, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Lois Smith, Kathryn Newton, Stephen Henderson
She’s not afraid to speak her mind. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is such a head-strong character that when a theater director at the Catholic high school she attends asks her if Lady Bird is her given name, she responds with “I gave it to myself. It’s given to me by me!” At times this trait is really quite charming, and the always talented Ronan immerses herself fully into the role. At other times, you get as frustrated with the character as her poor mother.
Take the scene where she and her fellow classmates are in the school gymnasium listening to an anti-abortion woman giving her story about how her mother at first considered aborting her before deciding against it. Lady Bird has already been established as a staunch anti-Republican, so it’s not really surprising when we find out that she’s pro-abortion. What is surprising is the thoughtless and astonishingly cruel thing she says to the woman in an attempt to shut her up (which ultimately gets her suspended from school).
As ugly as that scene is, I won’t deny one thing: it certainly felt honest. Like her or not, the character Lady Bird is a fully realized and realistic character, and one that was obviously inspired by debut writer and director Greta Gerwig (who’s a notable and very talented independent actress). Like her character, Gerwig was born and raised in Sacramento, she did attend a Catholic school, and she did go to a liberal arts college in New York City. Gerwig writes the character so intimately at times that it feels like we’re listening to Gerwig herself, and the film’s best and most personal scene is easily its last one, where Lady Bird makes a phone call home.
There’s really not much of a plot to write about. The movie’s more of a slice-of-life drama than a narrative driven film. We follow Lady Bird through her senior year of high school, as she tries participating in the school theater with her best friend Julie (Bennie Feldstein) and even crushes on a couple of guys at her school. The first boy she dates is Danny (Lucas Hedges), who’s big into theater and seems to have a soft spot for Lady Bird, until she discovers his secret one night that immediately puts an end to their relationship. Then, she goes for bad-boy Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), who plays an electric guitar in a band, and who may not be as honest as she thinks he is.
Things are certainly heated in the home front. After her loving father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job, her RN mother Marion (Laurie Metcalfe) has to pick up double shifts at the hospital to support the family. Her adopted brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) lives at home with his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott), and she finds the both of them to be quite a nuisance. Lady Bird wants to move out of Sacramento (which she finds incredibly boring) and attend a liberal arts college out in New York, and while her father is supportive, her mother vehemently opposes the idea.
The heart of the movie is the relationship between mother and daughter. While there’s obviously love between the two of them, they are both so equally willful and head-strong that they frequently get into bitter arguments with each other. The film begins with them on a road trip and crying as they listen to The Grapes of Wrath on cassette. They seem to enjoy each other’s company, but when Lady Bird tries turning on the radio and the mother asks her not to, it leads to an argument so heated and fierce that Lady Bird actually jumps out of the car while it’s driving to get away from her mother (she spends the bulk of the movie with her arm in a cast).
Some of the film's best moments are between mother and daughter. Their on-again-off-again relationship, which goes from love to hate to love again almost with the span of a couple of minutes, is so unpredictable that it feels completely real. There’s one scene in a thrift shop that made me smile, where the two of them seem to be getting into another argument. Just as it seems to be getting more heated by the second, it ends so quickly and abruptly the moment they find a Thanksgiving outfit for Lady Bird that they both like.
There are many scenes in this movie that I regard with affection. I laughed when Lady Bird and Julie begin snacking on unconsecrated Eucharist bread like Pringles while talking about masturbation, and I appreciated the genial portrayal of Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), who responds with a hearty laugh after Lady Bird pranks her by taping the sign “Just Married to Jesus” on the tail end of her car. I liked the scene where Lady Bird realizes how she inadvertently hurt her father (who won't say anything about it because he's too nice), and I laughed when the P.E. took over as theater director. Ronan is terrific as the lead character, but it’s Metcalfe as Lady Bird’s mother who steals the show. Her performance is so raw and so convincing that it should garner her recognition come Oscar season.
Lady Bird is a well-made and very well-acted movie, and it’s easy to see why people love it. And yet, I can’t really embrace it the way that so many people have. While I did enjoy the film, I was never really emotionally invested in it. There are a number of people who said they could relate to a lot of what happens in the film, but I just…couldn’t. This is a good movie, and it is worth seeing at least once. But could I relate to it? I was fully invested in it? Do I feel the need to ever see it again? Not really.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
Rated R for profanity, sexual content, teen partying, and one clip from a porno magazine (or as the MPAA would say, “brief graphic nudity”)