Released November 3, 2017
Rated R (Language, Some Sexual Content, Underage Smoking and Drinking)
1 hr. 34 min.
Directed and Written by Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends)
Cinematography by Sam Levy (Frances Ha, While We’re Young)
Music by Jon Brion (The Other Guys, Trainwreck)
Edited by Nick Houy (Men of Brutus, Billions)
Produced by Eli Bush (Moonrise Kingdom, Ex Machina), Evelyn O’Neill (House Rules, Talk to Me), and Scott Rudin (The Truman Show, The Social Network)
Starring Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Brooklyn), Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory), Tracy Letts (August: Orange County, The Big Short), Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Female Brain), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Timothée Chalamet (Interstellar, Hostiles), Lois Smith (Minority Report, The Nice Guys), Stephen Henderson (Lincoln, Fences), Odeya Rush (The Giver, Goosebumps), Jordan Rodrigues (The Fosters, Home and Away), and Marielle Scott (30 Miles from Nowhere, #ThisIsCollege)
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Ronan) is in her last high school year, and she looks forward to the future with high hopes, often unrealistic hopes, of leaving Sacramento and going to a place where life moves at a brisker pace. She fiercely demands to be called Lady Bird because she associates a new name with a new start for herself. Her parents (Metcalf and Letts) never achieved the things they wanted in life, which makes them feel bad and insecure. Lady Bird doesn’t hold that against her parents, but she does want more, and that makes her parents feel even worse.
But Lady Bird, impulsive, opinionated, strong-willed, and spontaneous, doesn’t really know what she wants from life. She pursues boys and other friends to the detriment of her relationship with her best friend, Julie (Feldstein). She makes choices that create turbulence in her relationship with her parents. She tries to participate in things in which she is out of her element, just to see. Growing up can be tough, and, in the end, it often feels like we’re all just stumbling through life, hopefully doing the best we can.
I’m not sure what I expected when I sat down to watch Lady Bird. Maybe more of a John Hughes-style film. Especially, I think I was expecting more of a Hughes-style energy. A little bit to my surprise, that’s not really what I got. What I did get is an endearing coming-of-age story that acts as a snippet of a portion of one girl’s teenage years. There’s not really an overarching storyline, except that of the efforts of Christine, who call herself “Lady Bird”, to get into something other than the local community college.
I guess I was expecting a somewhat clean-cut, somewhat raunchy, look at growing up with slightly exaggerated familial and romantic relationships. Instead, Lady Bird, though it does have romance and supposed romance, is actually, at its heart, an examination of the main character and her relationship with her best friend, her mother, and her hometown of Sacramento, which she calls “the Midwest of California.”
Lady Bird is a funny, insightful movie about the people and the places who matter in our lives and how they never truly leave us, no matter how much we may think we want to move away from them. It is raunchy at times, though the raunchiness never feels like it defiles the movie’s cuteness (and I mean that in the best of ways) and its innocence, but it’s certainly not clean-cut. The dialogue and character interactions are realistically awkward, which helps add to the movie’s sense of realness. Nothing feels Hollywood-ized, nothing glamorized, nothing romanticized. You’ll feel sure you’ve met all the people here in real life, and you’ve probably even found yourself in many of this movie’s situations.
Getting beyond the character and thematic elements of Lady Bird, I also love the performances by Ronan and Metcalf. I’ve always enjoyed Ronan’s acting, and this may be her best role. Metcalf steals the show, however, as a mother who has a hard time communicating with her daughter yet wants the best for her and wishes she could have given her more. Everybody else does a great job, as well: Letts as a father dealing with depression and the results of not finding his expected success; Hedges and Chalamet as boyfriends of Lady Bird at different times, both who treat her poorly in one way or another, both going their own flawed, sometimes careless ways; Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend, who’s there for Lady Bird even when Lady Bird isn’t there for her; Smith as the knowing, kind Sister of Lady Bird’s Catholic school; Henderson as a Father at the school, also kind yet also dealing with depression and loneliness; and all the rest.
The technical aspects are excellent, too, especially the editing. This is probably my favorite editing job in a movie all year. The movie’s manner of taking a peek in at real life rather than going from one perfectly formed scene to another could become boring and bland, but the light-on-its-feet editing adds an appealing energy, letting the film look in on something than jumping forward seamlessly, showing us something related happening a little later or moving forward to another thing altogether. The almost unpolished yet charming music adds to the film in a similar manner, as does the cinematography, not showy but solid, without which the editing would be much less effective.
This movie is so much more honest and perceptive than the average coming-of-age comedy, or drama for that matter, that everything else from this sort of genre seems pretty cliché in comparison. There are no villains, not even Lady Bird’s boyfriends who do her wrong, not even the stuck up girls in the school, not even any of the leaders in the school. There are moments Lady Bird could have capitalized on and exaggerated for humor, drama, or tension, yet it never does, to fine effect. For instance, Julie has a crush on a young, married math teacher. Throughout the whole movie, I was afraid Lady Bird would take cheap advantage of this and vulgarize it, but nothing ever happens like that. The man is a good teacher, and he pays attention to Julie because she is a good student, nothing more.
The driving factor here is life itself, which moves us along faster than any of us care to go. For Lady Bird, life moves slower than she’d like, yet, by the end, even the things she’s got that she wanted make her long for what she had before, even so, without making her want to leave what she has now.
I can’t say I loved Lady Bird. It is slow in some of its middle parts, and some of it was just too awkward, though realistically so, to drive the movie home for me. Still, I really, really liked it, and I definitely recommend it.
I’m going to give Lady Bird an 85%.
Lady Bird is the first movie that Gerwig has written and directed by herself. It has some of the best moments of 2017 film. If she can ever come close to this again, or top it, I think we have a fantastic director on our hands. She brought an exciting confidence, whimsy, elegance, and, additionally, restraint to this movie that I can’t wait to see again.