Greta Gerwig’s Debut “Lady Bird” Soars

It’s not breaking news that Greta Gerwig’s feature film directorial debut has opened to widespread critical acclaim.  Garnering the top score in Rotten Tomatoes’ history, Lady Bird has won the hearts and minds of indie film fans across the country.  Count me in as one of those fans who is raving about Gerwig’s coming of age comedy-drama.  Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, The Grand Budapest Hotel) stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school senior looking to flee her working class existence in Sacramento for a more enriching college life in the Big Apple. We follow Lady Bird through much of her senior year of high school.  She’s a mediocre but motivated student from the wrong side of the tracks, attending a private Catholic school, surrounded by rich kids.  If this plot sounds familiar, it is.  But a number of elements separate Lady Bird from those typical coming of age stories we’ve all seen in the past.

Credit goes to Gerwig’s script for creating such well-developed and real characters.  The film is a comedy, but it’s also a drama.  And within the 94 minute run time, we come to know truly multi-dimensional characters with complex relationships.  For instance, Lady Bird and her mother Marion (played with such incredible skill by Laurie Metcalf) bicker in a way that will resonate with nearly every woman whose mom was equal parts loving, passive-aggressive, and sometimes hyper-critical.  Tracy Letts (The Big Short, Killer Joe) plays the more emotionally-available and supportive dad who sacrifices more for his children than they realize.  His performance reminds me of a lovable John Hughes movie throwback dad, and helps the film find its emotional balance, even though the mother-daughter relationship is the true focus.

Throughout the movie, we see Lady Bird navigate her first serious relationships, both with the sweet, Irish Catholic theater nerd Danny (Lucas Hedges; Manchester by the Sea) and with brooding, bass-playing, rich kid Kyle (Timothee Chalamet; Interstellar).  Throughout the years, teenage guys’ coming of age stories have been depicted on screen time and again, but we rarely get a glimpse of this important time of life from a young woman’s perspective.  Again, Gerwig’s script and direction treat these first experiences with love and lust with the appropriate weight. That means, they’ll have an impact on how she progresses through the world, but they won’t determine her path in life.  What’s so refreshing about Lady Bird is seeing a protagonist grow emotionally through the course of the film, but not so dramatically and drastically that it seems fake. Beanie Feldstein is pitch perfect in her take on the awkward, less popular best friend, Julie.  While Lady Bird’s romantic entanglements are important to the story, it’s her friendships with other women that help define her trajectory in life.

The fact that Greta Gerwig was passed over for a Directing nod by the Golden Globes nominating committee is a head-scratcher.  Lady Bird is a true gem of a film, with top-notch writing, acting and directing.  It will keep you emotionally-involved with the characters and plot until the very end.  It’s one of my top five movies of the year.  Try to catch it in theaters before it disappears.

 

 

Patty Williamson

I teach media-related stuff at Central Michigan University, and have been ruining film for students for nearly 20 years.

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