Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Run time: 1 hour 34 minutes
Going to the movies is often a means of escape. You leave your typical life behind and travel to another country or even another universe and nothing has to be realistic. Animals can talk or gravity doesn’t exist or magic is alive and people can fly. There is an inciting incident that sets the hero on a certain path with a story arc that builds to a climactic ending and it all falls into place. That’s a classic movie experience.
Sometimes though a movie comes along that just invites you to live in someone’s life for a little while. That’s what happens in Lady Bird, where first-time director Greta Gerwig presents you with a year in the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). In this fascinating semi-autobiographical story, we get to be voyeurs in the tumultuous senior year of Christine, who calls herself Lady Bird. It’s 2003 and Lady Bird lives in Sacramento on the wrong side of the tracks with her mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), out of work father Larry (Tracy Letts), older brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend. Lady Bird attends a Catholic school to spare her from the less than stellar neighborhood school. While the artistic Lady Bird aspires to attend a fancy liberal east coast school, her finances and grades don’t quite match up to that lofty goal. This leads to a long simmering feud between mother and daughter.
Eager to make her mark in her senior year, Lady Bird and best friend Julie (the adorable Beanie Feldstein) successfully try out for the school play and embrace their theatrical sides. Lady Bird falls for fellow actor Danny (Lucas Hedges) and the pair begin a sweet all-encompassing romance that perfectly captures that feeling of first love. Of course the romance doesn’t last, and soon Lady Bird decides to win over the hipster outsider Kyle (Timothee Chalamet). To do this, she must befriend the popular girl, pretend she’s rich, and ditch her best friend. As you can imagine this plan also doesn’t go well for Lady Bird. Her trials and tribulations continue as she heads toward graduation and makes her big decision about where to attend college. Again, this story isn’t told in a traditional way, but we definitely see the development of Lady Bird’s character in her senior year.
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig has completely captured the essence of what chaos exists in the mind of a teenager during this all important time of finishing high school and heading off to college. Lady Bird feels everything so deeply, from hearing the perfect song to finding the perfect dress, to falling in love and having her heart broken. She is self absorbed and selfish yet loving and caring—she’s a typical teenager finding moments of intense drama in a relatively mundane life. Saoirse Ronan is absolutely stunning as the flawed Lady Bird. It’s hard to imagine choosing a beautiful 24 year old raised in Ireland to play a tormented Sacramento teen, but she nailed it.
What really makes this story work is the love story between Lady Bird and her mother Marion. The two love each other fiercely, but they are both such strong personalities that they are like two magnets that both attract and repel each other at the same time. They know exactly what buttons to push to make the other crazy and it’s just riveting to watch. In fact, in the opening scenes they go from crying together in the car over an audiobook to Lady Bird jumping out of the moving car after arguing with her mom over her preferred college choice. The dialogue between the two is just crackling with energy. Laurie Metcalf is also amazing as beleaguered mom Marion who holds the family together while working long hours as a nurse. She loves Lady Bird so much that she struggles in that difficult place of wanting the best for her child and not knowing whether to accept her for who she is or push and prod her to become her best self.
When the movie ended, I was surprised to find myself back in Charlotte in 2017. I enjoyed living in Lady Bird’s coming of age story for a little while and I was sad to leave her. I think I’ll be hearing lots more about Lady Bird and her family come awards season though. So give Sacramento in the early 2000’s a visit—I think you’ll like it there!