Lady Bird (2017)
Written & Directed by Greta Gerwig
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a high school senior living with wanderlust in the suburbs of Sacramento circa 2002. She has a strained relationship with her mother, Marion who is forced to play the bad guy while her father, Larry deals with issues of employment and finances in the background. Lady Bird is an incredibly strong personality with ambitions of attending one of the mid-tier Ivy League schools of the East Coast. She’s pointed in the direction of the theater when seeking out extracurriculars to add to her C.V. It’s doing theater that pushes her into her first complicated romantic relationship.
A coming of age film walks a delicate line these days. There seems to be a quarterly movie about a teenage girl coming of age released at least every quarter, and they always seem to slide into the same sort of tropes and cliches, failing to offer a fresh take on the genre. In many ways, they are approaching the levels of gross overexposure that superhero movies have. What Lady Bird needed was a bright, distinct voice and point of view, hard to avoid all those common events in adolescence that have come to feel cliche. Gerwig completely succeeds and has produced a film that explores incredibly fresh and new, that contains honest emotion and characters.
The character of Lady Bird is a difficult one to make likable, she is so intense and a teenage intellectual that she could have quickly become grating. It speaks to Saoirse Ronan’s skills as an actor that she never lets off the gas on that intensity, but brings layers of reality to her portrayal. Lady Bird reminds you of people you’ve met in your youth who may have grated on your nerves at times, but you were unable to dislike. She is able to work through awkward cringing scenes that you squirming yet hoping for the best for her. Lady Bird is that person who throws herself into whatever she has set her mind to with so much force and energy that she can’t help but crash and burn when it doesn’t live up to her expectations.I admit I haven’t delved into the recent prolific work of Ronan, but after this film, I feel compelled to do so.
Playing off of Ronan’s Lady Bird is veteran actor Laurie Metcalf, whom audience most likely know as Jackie from Roseanne. Every time I see Metcalf pop in film and television I get excited. She is so damn good at her craft that you know it will be a delight and you’ll be fully engaged with what she is doing on screen. As Marion, she plays a very loving, but stern mother, who has moments of painful honest with her daughter. At one point she pulls out the parental cliche of touting how much money has been spent to raise Lady Bird. Her daughter replies asking for a number because when she grows up, she’ll pay her back, so she never has to speak to her mother again. Marion replies coldly and reflexively that Lady Bird will never be able to get a job that pays her good enough to do that. The scene plays as all too real if you grew up having highly volatile and emotional arguments with a parent. And as unlikable as Lady Bird was in danger of being, Marion walks that same fine line, yet comes out being just as sympathetic. Everyone is doing what they think is best and digging their heels in so deep they refuse to see the harm they do their relationships.
Lady Bird never feels dishonest in its emotions and sentiment. The way characters react to each other feels deeply honest, how quickly friendships are made, dissolve, and are made up when you’re young. How the mood can swing from calm and peaceful to explosive and world ending when you are a teenager with your parents. The character of Lady Bird sees beauty in the moments of life and weathers the blows of becoming disheartened when reality does not live up to expectation. Greta Gerwig has emerged from her days as the indie darling in Joe Swanberg’s mumblecore films and Noah Baumbach’s middle-class cinema to be a strong new voice. I can’t wait to see what her next movie will be.