Film Review – Lady Bird
I’ll just come out and say it. I love Greta Gerwig. I love her a lot. She seems both smart and funny, and while she is – like most Hollywood people – exceptionally pretty, it doesn’t feel like a thirsty beauty, if you get what I’m laying down. Now I don’t know her, so she could be awful face-to-face, but since I am never going to meet her, she is going to live in my mind as a smart, ambitious woman with talent, a good work ethic, and the ability to recognize an opportunity when she sees it. If you know something contrary to those assertions, just shut it. Let me have this one. I’ve always thought she was an amiable presence, but really started to take notice with Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, which Gerwig co-wrote. (She also wrote Francis Ha with Baumbach, but I haven’t seen that one yet. I am saving it for a shitty day pick-me-up.) I’m not particularly interested in Baumbach’s films (I am not willingly going to watch movies about marriages, divorces, or characters played by Ben Stiller) but I thought I would give Mistress America a try and it was a DELIGHT, and much of that was due to Gerwig. I was super excited to hear she had a new movie coming out, which she wrote and directed called Lady Bird, and dear reader, I will not keep you in suspense: I LOVED IT. (And not just because I am a fan girl.)
Lady Bird is the coming of age story of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). It’s her senior year of high school, and more than anything she dreams of getting the hell out of Sacramento and going to college back east where she can experience art and culture. She wants to live through something, anything but the boring life she feels she has. Over the school year, she has romances, makes new friends, alienates old friends, alienates new friends, performs in a musical, works in a coffee shop, drives her mother (Laurie Metcalf) nuts, is in turn frustrated by her mother’s constant carping, goes to prom, and generally has the experiences one has on the way to adulthood. What makes this special is that Gerwig tells this story deftly and with love. A lot of Lady Bird’s experiences mimic that of her creator – Gerwig went to a Catholic high school in Sacramento with a nurse mother – and these moments ground the film in reality. This story is fiction, but it doesn’t feel like it.
I am not usually a fan of coming-of-age movies because they’re usually about dudes, and that story has been told a million billion times. I just don’t care anymore. But this is different. It’s kinder to its characters than most movies are, and I for one could stand to see some more of that right now. Lady Bird’s mother Marion loves her daughter fiercely, but she just cannot stop herself from saying what’s on her mind. And a lot of those thoughts are hurtful. (If I have one bit of advice for parenting a teenager, it is this: Just don’t say that thing. Tell it to your partner or best friend instead. Don’t comment on their clothes, their hair, their friends, your disappointment with them, or your doubts that they will ever get their act together and get out of your house. Keep that shit inside.) But the movie does not make her a villain. Marian’s own mother was an abusive alcoholic, and she is doing the best with the skill set she has. And as good as Saoirse Ronan is as Lady Bird, Laurie Metcalf is even better as her mother. I’ve always liked her, but she’s just getting better over time.
Another thing I love about this movie is its kindness (there’s that word again) to its female characters. Even the popular rich girl is more rounded out than usual. She’s still kind of horrible, but when she does sort of turn on Lady Bird, she has a good reason for it. All the women in this film are lovingly portrayed, and all of them are given more depth than I expected to see. Lady Bird, like all teenagers, is kind of a dumbass, but she’s a dumbass with a lot of potential. Also, and this is important, the working class people in this movie live in realistic houses and apartments, and the film does not shy away from portraying class distinctions. It’s not really part of the plot, but it does matter within the context of the story. (Its still super white, so it’s not getting off scot free from criticism, but it does treat its few characters of color well.)
I CANNOT WAIT to see what Gerwig does next. She’s a fine actress, but I think she’s a better writer and director, and I would like to see what other stories she wants to tell. There is an honesty in this movie that does not shy away from the hard stuff, but also a compassion which makes those challenges easier to sit through. This is my favorite film of the year so far, and I find it hard to believe I could be so lucky as to find a better one before the end of the year.