I entered the theater feeling fairly dubious of Lady Bird, the directorial debut of beloved indie starlet Greta Gerwig. I thought, I’ve seen this film before—another twee coming-of-age tale about an earnest yet misunderstood youth finding her place in the world. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, aside from how many other movies have already tread the same ground in recent years. Lady Bird turned out to be what I expected in many ways, but in Gerwig’s capable hands, the familiar story never feels stale and its characters never fall flat. In fact, it proves to be an infectiously fun, as well as achingly heartfelt experience.
The story revolves around the film’s namesake character, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), as she navigates her last year of high school and makes plans for her future. The customary, late-adolescent hurdles all make appearances: the making and losing of friends, arguments with parents, college applications, boys, prom. But Lady Bird manages to sidestep cliché through sheer attention to detail in its recreation of early-2000s Sacramento, as well as through the stellar performances delivered by its leads.
Ronan brings exactly the right energy to Lady Bird to win us over to her lovable mania without eclipsing the oblivious self-centeredness underpinning many of her decisions. But Laurie Metcalf delivered the film’s standout performance as Lady Bird’s mother, Marion, described perfectly by one of her daughter’s classmates as “warm, but also kind of scary.” In the hands of a lesser actor, Marion probably would not have made for an especially likeable character, but Metcalf manages to effortlessly convey the loving concern behind all of her character’s passive-aggressive jabs and efforts to deflate her daughter’s lofty dreams.
The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is at the center of this film, and is one of the primary features distinguishing this story from other contemporary coming-of-age tales. Often such movies firmly seat themselves in the teen lead’s perspective—both morally and narratively— but Lady Bird views its characters with a shrewder, more empathetic eye. There are no evil stepparents or irredeemable exes here. In taking this more nuanced perspective towards its characters, Lady Bird becomes a more honest film. Every character is flawed, often deeply so, but we come to recognize their worth as they make mistakes and learn from their errors. We forgive them, even when they can’t forgive themselves. In a way, Lady Bird gives us permission to excuse our own missteps, too.
Gerwig’s debut deals with an array of topics that could easily overwhelm a clumsier filmmaker—class, religion, sexuality, family, ambition. Despite being pulled in so many different directions, the film excels through its unfaltering sincerity. It never tries to overreach itself, and its restlessness only makes it more endearing and authentic to the experience of its characters. The film is funny, sensitive, impeccably flawed. Lady Bird is an intensely human adventure.
Lady Bird (2017, 94 min.)
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Jake McDorman, John Karna, Bayne Gibby, Laura Marano.
Currently showing at:
• Regal Downtown West Cinema 8 – 1640 Downtown West Blvd, Knoxville
• Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX – 11240 Parkside Drive, Knoxville