Lady Bird – 2017
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith
It’s amazing how great of a year it’s been in movies. I have had one film after the other take the spot of best movie and favorite movie. Up to now, none of them have been both. I think we found it in this story that’s simply about a young, not so rich girl, growing up.
The content is rough, but it’s not brutal. In my limited amount of time I have spent on this planet being a girl (so far, 0 minutes), this seems to be the most realistically feminine film I have experienced. Ronan is Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. She is in her last year of High School in Sacramento, but it’s the last city she wants to go to college. She wants to go to the east coast, which really means New York. She is an average student at a Catholic high school, but her test scores are decent. She has a shot.
Her mother, Marion (Metcalf) doesn’t think its at all practical, either logistically or financially. She’s working double shifts at the hospital in the wake of her husband being laid off at his job, and she knows every penny counts.
Lady Bird is going through many changes, but not any more than her friends. The experiences of a high school teenager in 2002 are about the same as those in any era, except for the difference in phone communication. She’s not the first kid that’s ever been frustrated by her station in life. I am not sure if that frustration has ever been more honestly portrayed. This even outpaces Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Life isn’t kicking Lady Bird in the face. Most of the damage is brought on by her own actions, like when she jumps out of a moving car while she’s arguing with her mother. She gets to live with the consequences, and learn from them.
I don’t know if I have ever seen a smarter coming of age script. There are many resonant and funny lines scattered throughout. The lines work because they are coming from fully realized characters. From the Sister Sarah Joan (Smith), Father Leviatch (Henderson), her best friend “Julie” (Feldstein) to her first real boyfriend Danny (Hedges), the characters are familiar, but never predictable. They are warm and real and flawed and beautiful. Even the jerks aren’t really so bad. They keep track of the lies and they don’t do it themselves.
That there is not a consistent flow in this story is not a total surprise. I found myself wondering how long the film was going to go on. Not because I was tired of it, but because it vaults past many typical jumping off points in favor of just plain finishing the story, even if the last step is an awkward one. There is no grand finale. There is a girl who discovers yet again that reality trumps her imagination. And that ain’t such a bad fate.
Of the acting, I can say this is the best film I have seen from top to bottom of the cast. Each of the characters are real and they are vital to the story. They have their own trajectory, and aren’t just there to service the plot. There are several story lines that could have made a remarkable film on their own. It feels like a beautiful collision of universes that we are lucky enough to discover converging at once.
Gerwig is an incredible talent as a writer and director. She has a knack for funny, honest and beautiful dialogue that is as awkward as it is perfect. The conversations between Lady Bird and Marion are some of the most resonant I have seen between a child and their parent. The discussions feel “as though eternity beckons” when really one’s just curious as to how the bills are being paid.
The relationship between father and daughter is not any less sweet. Letts’ Larry is a man of great dignity, miraculously devoid of pride without being a sad sack. He pushes on as he can and he’s has a bond with his daughter and son separately, but no less vibrantly. The sequence of seeing him job hunting and interviewing with someone who has no idea the relevance of him as an employee or as a person is heartbreaking. It’s something to which most men with kids in high school and beyond will have no difficulty relating.
This film is Ronan’s coming out, though. Don’t let anyone fool you with talk about McDormand. The Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role should go through her, and there really isn’t anyone close. She showed immense talent in last year’s Brooklyn, and she shows depth here. Her ability to champ at the bit while running through parts of life she’d best walk through is a wonder to watch. She’s got an intense, beautiful intelligence that gives the viewer the experience of being her, instead of just watching.
Metcalf also deserves strong consideration for her supporting role. Her raw, weathered beauty has time for many things in life, except, perhaps, sorting out her intense feelings for a daughter who is just like her. I have always appreciated Metcalf, but never more than here.
Gerwig needs to be on everyone’s shortlist for Director and Screenplay. This film is a masterpiece, and it should never leave our consciousness. It treats life in a sad, beautiful and fair manner. There is nothing here to put on post card. There is plenty here to put a stamp on your heart.
(***** out of *****)