and so do hastily-strung decorative Christmas lights and crinkled posters informing us of a failed high school officer run. She dreams of becoming a writer, like Fran Lebovitz or Joan Didion or something. She’s dying to meet the boy of her dreams. She thinks the East Coast is the most romantic place in the world. She wants nothing more than to get out of this stupid town.
Her name is Christine (Saoirse Ronan), though lately she’s been going by Lady Bird, a title she gave to herself. She’s 17 going on 18, a student of her county’s premier private Catholic school (her brother saw someone get knifed at the public one, so that one’s a no go), and is in the midst of filling out college applications. She yearns for Yale or Brown, but her family’s less-than-ideal financial situation, as well as her GPA, sings Davis.
The movie hosting Christine, the 93-minute Lady Bird, is one of the best films of the year. It is a tragicomic slice of life detailing a girl’s coming of age, the cinematic equivalent of a story beginning with “and” that takes us on a journey that strictly lives in the moment. Fickle and purposefully emotionally jumbled, it is the closest a teen movie has ever come to depicting a young adult’s life the way it is. It is messy. As eventful as it isn’t. Full of as many stupid mistakes as great decisions. Moments that seem trivial at the time but grow to be meaningful as the years pass by.
Lady Bird begins as its title character starts her senior year of high school, and ends with her first week of college. Within that period, she has two romances – one sweet but doomed (with last year’s Oscar breakout Lucas Hedges) and one vapid (with this year’s tentative Oscar breakout Timothée Chalamet) – gets a minor part in a play, gets rejected by a multitude of dream universities, constantly fights with her mother, briefly ditches her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) for the popular crowd, goes to prom, and gets blackout drunk at her first university party.
We’ve had similar experiences to the ones displayed in the film ourselves. But even more remarkable is that we’ve met so many Lady Birds in our lifetime: they’re these young individuals as smart and full of ideas as they are accidentally self-absorbed and partial to being as frenzied as their aspirations. Like any precocious adolescent on the verge.
The film is semi-autobiographical for its writer and director Greta Gerwig, who makes her proper moviemaking debut here. While watching the feature, we notice two things. One is that not a moment rings false – even the more awkward moments are methodically laid out. The other is that Gerwig has finally arrived after years of standing as one of independent cinema’s most remarkable talents.
Lady Bird is a project with enough mainstream appeal and unabashed heart to make its Oscar buzz last. It’s also the first bona fide masterpiece in a filmography full of smaller scale ones. And it just feels so right.
Christine herself makes for an uncommonly multifaceted teenage character, one who knows what she wants just as much as she doesn’t, who knows who she is just as much as she doesn’t. And the characters supporting her are similarly complex. Metcalf’s passive-aggressive mom whose frequent acidity covers up her compassionate nature is distinct. (Her relationship with her daughter is by far the most emotionally moving thing about an already emotionally moving movie.) And so is Letts’ portrayal of a hard-working man who can’t seem to catch a break.
It is Julie (Christine's insecure BFF who’s great at math and has a crush on her conventionally handsome teacher) and Danny (the Hedges-portrayed love interest who turns out to be gay) who touch us the most, though. We see so much beauty in Julie, who is plump and thinks people are just being nice when they compliment her. We want to hug Danny, who later in the film breaks down in Christine's arms, confessing how ashamed he is of his sexuality.
This gold mine of sensitively rendered supporting characters help develop the world that is the early aughts California in which Gerwig sets the film. But it also reminds us that a remark made by Christine early in the movie – that nothing she does has any impact whatsoever – is unknowingly hyperbolic. The truth is is that Lady Bird, good or bad, does have a hand in the shaping of the lives of the people around her.
It is an unmissable movie, a tried and true masterpiece of its genre. You likely won’t experience writing and directing as perceptive as Gerwig’s for the rest of 2017, and you probably won’t be faced with a performance as bewilderingly perfect as the one given by the wunderkind Ronan, who just seems to get better as she ages. Come for Lady Bird’s artistic and performative mastery. Stay for its universality and its candor. A
1 Hr., 33 Mins.
Lady Bird November 15, 2017
he lives in a small house in Sacramento she half-jokingly says sits on the wrong side of the tracks. Her mom’s (Laurie Metcalf) a tired-eyed nurse, her dad’s (Tracy Letts) a kindly, balding man in finances, and her adopted brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend (Laura Marano) proudly carry the Lisbeth Salander aesthetic and try as best they can to be convincing social activists. Her hair’s a deliberately badly dyed hot pink; her clothing style recalls that of Claire Danes in My So-Called Life (1995). Prints fangirling over Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill rest atop her bedroom’s chipping wallpaper,
This review also appeared in The Daily.