At thirty-four, Greta Gerwig has established herself as an important star of stage (The Village Bike) and screen (Frances Ha, 20th Century Women), but here she catapults herself as a writer-director to keep a very close eye on. Lady Bird’s unvarnished, unglamorized high-school drama has the quirky humor one could expect from Gerwig, as well as the sudden emotions inherent in a teenager’s process of discovery and self-discovery. Ultimately, this film bodes well as a mother-daughter love story, replete with the tribulations of painful individuation.
Saoirse Ronan, always gracing the screen regardless of role (Brooklyn, Atonement), plays the recalcitrant Christine McPherson, who has given herself the nickname “Lady Bird”. A senior at a Roman Catholic high school located in Sacramento, you recognize her primary objective is to graduate as swiftly as possible, in hopes of fleeing to a posh college on the East Coast.
Unfortunately for McPherson, there are two problems with that plan: Her grades wail of mediocrity, and even if they were parallel with honor-roll peers, her parents still wouldn’t be able to afford it. Her father (Tracy Letts) is a despondent computer programmer who has recently become unemployed, and her mother (the brilliant Laurie Metcalf) works merely two shifts as a nurse. The preeminent scenes in the film pit mother against daughter. Both are fiercely strong-willed and uniquely contentious; going at it like longtime adversaries who know each other’s every weakness. And yet beneath all the clamor, it’s evident they share an immutable love. It’s certainly one of the most realistic mother-daughter duets I’ve seen in quite some time.
This film feels like Gerwig’s memoir about the end of adolescence. Many of the scenes throughout hint at an important moment that may have happened in her own life, hence a feeling of redundancy within the narrative structure, but even if so, the amount of heart illustrated is prolific. Its montage-cognate bursts seem novelistic like a 21st century “Franny and Zoey” but with a wiser, less pretentious lead character.
Set soon after the 9/11 attacks, I do sense quite too much is made of that time frame. The youthful coming-of-age qualms experienced by Lady Bird, to which we all can relate in many facets, are, after all, timeless. There isn’t a need of historical import for added gloss, as the movie thrives most when it undercuts its own seriousness.
Not since The Breakfast Club has there been a more multi-dimensional and realistic portrayal of unabashed adolescence.
By Brandon Colón