Director/Screenwriter Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends) brings us her version of a coming of age tale which is wrapped up in ode to her hometown of Sacramento. It is certainly not your typical coming of age film as it deals with class issues, diversity, mother-daughter relationships, and female friendship. Signals an entrance to the directorial scene for Gerwig as well as cementing Saoirse Ronan as one of the best young actors today.
High school senior Lady Bird McPherson, real name Christine, (Saoirse Ronan – Loving Vincent, Brooklyn) attends an upper class private Catholic school. But she is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. And she dreams of bigger things. Bigger things than what she finds in Sacramento, California. Lady Bird wants to apply to college in New York City so she can be amidst writers and culture. The only problem is that her father (Tracy Letts – The Big Short, August: Osage County) has just lost his job and her mother (Laurie Metcalf – from television’s Roseanne) wants her to go to school instate because of money being tight and that she doesn’t think Lady Bird will amount to much. Tension abounds at home.
Tension also erupts between Lady Bird and her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein – Bad Neighbours 2) when Lady Bird strikes up a friendship with the school’s prettiest, rich girl, Jenna (Odeya Rush – The Giver, Goosebumps). Then there is the issue of boys. Boys like Danny (Lucas Hedges – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Manchester by the Sea) and Kyle (Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name, Men, Women & Children).
Saoirse Ronan is once again gold. The young woman is a great actress. Every character she takes on she inhabits. Realistically. for instance, the California/American accent she does is completely believable. Should not be a surprise (and yet it kinda is) to anyone that by the tender age of 23 she has already earned three Oscar nominations. She beautifully conveys the vulnerabilities, dreams, self-awareness, moral values, and first experiences with love and sex of 17-year-old Lady Bird. Ably she navigates the characters through moments that are heart wrenching some that are embarrassing while others that are hilarious. Just to show off the range Ronan is capable of. The tenderness in the scenes between Ronan and Letts and the heartbreaking and often conflict riddled scenes between Ronan and Metcalf are a wonder to watch.
A malleable film that wavers between being light and fun to one that is rather serious. The actors and director navigate this very well, never allowing it to become like a roller coaster ride or the variances too unnatural or jarring. Gerwig shows she has the chops to be considered amongst the up and coming young directors with her managing of all the stuff and tones of Lady Bird. She really has an ear for dialogue and a sense of pacing. Meaning she does not allow things to drag in the film. Confident enough to “end” a scene. At times the scenes are almost little stand alone things that exist on their own and yet do not ruin the flow of the entire body of work. Really great how she manages to bring to life rather big moments in an economical amount of time without making it feel rushed or incomplete. As for the dialogue it is rather snappy, witty while remaining realistic. It involves emotions without being so sweet that it makes your teeth ache. It could bring tears to some without making you feel like you are being manipulated. Rather rare in film.
The particular transitional time between adolescence and adulthood is special for many reasons. All adults have gone through it. It is a tough time, yet lovely at the same time. On top of being an tribute to that time in life it is also a love letter to Sacramento. It is the city that Greta Gerwig grew up in and obviously has fond memories of. It is not an area or city of California that many of us are familiar especially in films like we are with Los Angeles or San Francisco. It is a suburb, but one that seems to have plenty of character and swatches of beauty. That really comes through in how Gerwig has lovingly portrayed it.