Lady Bird Review

Coming-of-age films from green, independent filmmakers have a tendency to hit their mark at a surprisingly higher rather than other stories, but something about Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” feels more like a bull’s-eye. Her semi-autobiographical snapshot of a high school senior exploring her identity has an assured wit and a firm grasp on the emotional truth of that life stage.

Even though she’s playing someone close to her age, Saoirse Ronan continues to display a dazzling versatility as Lady Bird/Christine, a young woman at a Catholic private school who dreams of escaping her native Sacramento to attend a college or university on the East Coast. Consequently, she rejects the pragmatism of her middle-class, blue-collar parents (Tony winners Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts), namely her well-intentioned but admittedly cold mother. Determined not to let anyone put her in a box, Lady Bird subconsciously turns her senior year into an experiment in self-discovery, hoping to fashion an identity that suits her and the vision she has for her life.

Gerwig’s script is not guided by plot so much as story lines that emerge and drift away, some of which are fleeting and some of which run throughout the course of the film. In addition to college acceptance, there’s her foray into drama club, a couple romantic interests and her ongoing challenges with her mother.

The film comes together with brilliant editing, especially the moments of comedy. With the help of editor Nick Houy, Gerwig demonstrates uncanny comedic timing in the way she constructs scenes. “Lady Bird” earns and accumulates laughs early and effortlessly, and so much of the force behind the humor comes from quick, well-timed edits. Also, her cast is clearly having a blast making this movie and she makes sure the camera is there to capture the funniest, most authentic moments.

The editing also plays into the dramatic elements as well. Gerwig has incredible belief in the viewer to connect the dots and intuit the emotional consequences of the bigger moments in the story. The film’s first big moment of melodrama, in which Lady Bird makes a startling discovery in the bathroom, jumps immediately to some several minutes or hours later, when she and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) have an emotional moment to Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me.” Most films would’ve resorted to melodrama and really stewed in these moments; Gerwig keeps her film moving.

it’s amazing what she fits into 94 minutes. The mileage she gets out of each scene and the moments she includes in this story is a lot of what sets “Lady Bird” apart. She’s able to trim all the fat because the meat of the story is so substantial. Every interaction, every character brings something to the table and exhibits this universal truth that there’s a side to everyone that isn’t visible in how they appear and behave, a lesson Lady Bird badly needs to learn.

The most tender and sensitive example is in the mother-daughter relationship that in many ways is the central dynamic of the film. Lady Bird and Marion represent the clash of idealism and pragmatism that are so often at the core of teen-parent discord and the scenes they have together perfectly encapsulate that tension, but also the love and bond. Metcalf’s performance captures all the love and devotion and the stubbornness and frustration that makes her both the “villain” of the film and the one you sympathize with. Marion and Lady Bird are so authentically realized in the writing and in the performances that it’s almost like being able to step back and objectively look at your own parent-child relationship.

Although most audiences won’t quite relate to the film’s “love letter to Sacramento” aspects, dreaming beyond or feeling attached to where you grew up is still a universal sentiment, one that Gerwig handles with care because in so many ways that push-and-pull embodies a lot of the wrestling that “Lady Bird” does on the more micro level with its characters.

So many films touch on this aspect of growing up, but “Lady Bird” makes and arrives at these critical points with the kind of authenticity and thoughtful, intentioned writing that the film feels as though it’s a collection of someone’s actual lived experiences and relationships. Gerwig’s voice and Ronan’s performance meld into one truthful story that hits all the funniest and most sincere notes without lapsing to clichés and conventions, a truly special feat of filmmaking from a first-time director.


4.5/5 Stars


Lady Bird
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein


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