December 07, 2017

Lady Bird

Grade: B +
Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Laura Marano, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Jordan Rodrigues, and Lois Smith
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Writer Greta Gerwig claims Lady Bird, her directorial debut, isn’t autobiographical. Yet like Gerwig, the film’s protagonist, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), grows up in Sacramento and as a high school senior attends a private Catholic girls academy circa 2002 (when Gerwig would have been 19 years old). Both of their moms are nurses, and both dads were unemployed computer programmers. And both yearn(ed) to break out of Sactown and bask in the bright lights of New York City. That said, Gerwig says she never failed her driver’s license test nor asked anyone to call her by a nickname. So … all square?

Gerwig was also a self-professed “intense child,” an apt description of Christine, who insists on being called ‘Lady Bird’ for reasons that aren’t really ever explained. Lady Bird is a precocious teenager who exudes a cavalier attitude about school, family, and friends while harboring a fervent desire to be accepted by all. Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) rules the roost with iron-fisted pragmatism and greets Lady Bird’s eccentricities with passive aggressiveness disdain. Her dad Larry (the great Tracy Letts), unemployed and depressed, wants to help Lady Bird realize her NYC dreams but fears Marion’s reprisal. At school, Lady Bird can make good grades when she wants to. Socially, she’s hangs with her unassuming best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and embraces the school theater troupe, yet she still wants to be accepted by the cool crowd.

Ronan is awards-worthy great, but the true complexity of Lady Bird is exhibited in how it even-handedly treats its antagonists. Marion comes across as rigid and even uncaring, yet running a family of five solely on a nurse’s salary is daunting enough even without Lady Bird’s trying peculiarities. Jenna (Odeya Rush), the school’s resident popular tart whom Lady Bird tries to befriend, is less a mean girl than simply privileged and aloof. The same goes for Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the object of Lady Bird’s infatuation, who isn’t some muscle-bound jock, but instead a brooding anarchist whose liberal, literate leanings mask rank self-involvement. All the while, Lady Bird tries to balance her wannabe rebellious against Catholic guilt, espoused by a surprisingly empathetic headmistress (Lois Smith).

Lady Bird is an astute, refreshing coming-of-age dramedy, but it’s more than that. As the film’s denouement confirms, it’s a paean to home and how we are a product of our formative setting, both time and place. Lady Bird dismisses Sacramento, taking the familiar environs for granted, until she moves away and realizes they are inextricably linked. Although we may leave our hometown, our hometown ever quite leaves us.

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