A Personal Journey Not To Be Missed
When asked where she’s from, the titular character in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird betrays her home town of Sacramento for the opportunity to look a little bit cooler in the eyes of a potential suitor. She says, “San Francisco.”
We’re all just a tiny bit ashamed of our roots, especially during the wide-eyed innocence and miserable arrogance of our teen years. And we are never quite content with where we’ve gone and what we’ve done to those we left behind. It’s the idea there’s always something bigger happening somewhere else that becomes the jumping off point for Gerwig’s heartfelt story about home, childhood, growing up, and the passage of time. Gerwig makes her directing debut (and what a debut it is!) from a script she wrote as an earnest love letter to her home town.
Lady Bird is the “given” name of Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) -- given by herself, to herself as a means of expressing a self-identity in a stifling place she can’t wait to get out of. With one foot in high school and the other perched precariously over some lofty ideal of the great and wonderful things the future has to offer, she’s filling out college applications and dreaming of attending one of those fancy liberal arts colleges in New York... or anywhere on the East Coast, really. Just somewhere away from California and the asphyxiating stagnation it means to her.
But in the meantime, she’s sleepwalking through a senior year with mediocre grades and passionate interests that never quite mesh with the obstinate ideals of her conservative Catholic high school. Committed to making her dream come true, Lady Bird fulfills the preconceived notions of high school life by joining the drama club, shunning her best friends for the popular kids, and even exploring her own sexuality.
Ronan is absolutely mesmerizing in this Oscar-worthy performance as she morphs into the mushy shell of a complex, hormone-charged character brimming with a defiance and self-centeredness familiar to any parent of a teenager, while at the same time drawing us in with an irresistible wit and naked vulnerability that plays perfectly against her over-worked, tough-love mother (Laurie Metcalf). We watch through parted fingers as this perfectly-rendered mother/daughter dynamic, though truly awful and quite painful to watch at times, forms the central hive of the story around which their messy lives revolve. Hang in there, though. Redemption, of sorts, eventually comes in an act of ultimate love for one another in the closing stanza.
Metcalf throws her hat into the awards conversation with a brilliant, well-rounded performance that darn-near steals the entire show. Though she truly shines opposite Ronan, her prickly Marion also plays nicely against nice-guy husband Larry (Tracy Letts) whose calmness is the much-needed ballast in this family storm. He just wants wife and daughter to see each other the way he sees them. That may never happen.
Top-notch performances from a stellar cast aside, the real star of the show is Gerwig’s richly-rendered script that skillfully touches on many hefty subjects, yet always maintains a refreshingly quirky practicality. There’s a quite strong religious undertone to the proceedings born from Gerwig’s own experiences in the Catholic church, and that plays a fairly important role in Lady Bird’s post-high school life.
Don’t miss Lady Bird. You’ll fall in love with its whimsical charm and the true warmth laid bare by each of its characters. Gerwig has presented a near-perfect realization of what it means to become an adult while both loving and hating the place where we grew up and those we shared it with. We’ve all experienced Lady Bird. After all, this is our story, as comfortable as an old pair of worn-out leather slippers. Step in and relive your own personal journey.
(Released by A24 and rated “R” for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.