Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is having a tough time. She constantly butts heads with her sweet yet thorny mother (Laurie Metcalf), along with the constant boy drama and decision making that hits a woman in her senior year of high school, and her doting father (Tracy Letts) may be suffering from depression. All the while, Christine wants to break out of small town boredom in Sacramento, California to a college far far away. She’s dealing with a lot.
You’ve seen this story told before, but Greta Gerwig makes it feel fresh and personal again in her directorial debut, Lady Bird. Gerwig is a fine actress, but she is a much better filmmaker. You’ll leave this film feeling every single emotion that Gerwig intended.
I love a film that can be heartwarming without pointing its arrow directly at the viewer’s heart. Instead, a film may simply trigger something inside of you, awake a memory perhaps-or make you suddenly relive a part of your past that had been buried for quite some time. Lady Bird does that and wisely blends drama, comedy, and some romance into a realistic portrait of teenage rebellion.
“Lady Bird” is what Christine desperately wants people to call her, like a private shield to deflect attention to where she lives-“on the wrong side of the tracks-while trying to understand whether her mother loves or dislikes her.
The chemistry between Ronan and Metcalf as two women who have way too much in common but are too blinded emotionally to notice it makes the film what it is. They share the most scenes together in the film and create a devastatingly honest portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. Right when you think Gerwig’s tale may dip into easy going melodrama and try to manipulate the audience, a sharp cut of dark humor slices through the film.
Lady Bird reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it warmed you up while being honest at the same time. Most films have to stretch outside the border of realism to make you feel good; this film does not. Gerwig’s tale has confidence, and a fair dose of humor to balance out the heavier themes in play.
The supporting cast is potent without trying to do too much. Outside of the exemplary work from Ronan and Metcalf, Letts is very good as the afflicted yet loving father whose “good cop” nature balances Metcalf’s cold streak. Beanie Feldstein is very good as Christine’s best friend, Julie. The two of them share a few hilarious scenes, including a tearful rendition of Dave Matthews Band’s hit song, “Crash into Me”.
I mean, any film that plays a great D.M.B. song three times pushes it closer to a thumbs up review from this critic. Thankfully, Lady Bird is a lot better than the last time I heard Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” in a movie, which was 1997’s Excess Baggage.
A big part of Lady Bird is about the difficulty of a bird flying away from its nest, aka a teenager breaking off from her hometown and family for bigger and better things. As much as Christine hates to admit it, Sacramento is a part of her no matter what, and that really affected me. Growing up in South City, I carry parts of my hometown wherever I go, and it simply never goes away.
Movies are extra special when they don’t just help you escape, but also relate to something in your personal life.
There’s a moment towards the end where Christine talks about the feelings she had when she first drove through her hometown. It’s a subtle yet emotional part of the film that you know was a method process for Gerwig. It made me think about the first time I drove down Kingshighway and Chippewa, looking at my old neighborhood (and current one) with a new pair of “lenses”.
Lady Bird isn’t another teenager lost in translation flick; it’s a brutally honest take on the ties that bind a young person to their family and childhood. How no matter what, we are our past, for better or worse.
Greta Gerwig’s film made me feel something. Go see if it has the same effect on you. There may be a few laughs along the way.