Lady Bird chronicles a year in the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, from the start of her senior year of high school to her first day at college. During the year, Lady Bird deals with boyfriends, best friends, her virginity, college applications, popularity, her brother, her father, and, most of all, her mother. The film doesn’t have a firm plot, it is rather just a series of events that inevitably lead to the same conclusion of high school graduation. More than anything else, Lady Bird is a story of moments and relationships, which are sure to resonate with whoever may be watching.
Lady Bird is a very simple movie. The cinematography is straightforward and the editing is basic – little to no risks are taken on the technical side of things. Instead, all the focus in on the writing, directing, and acting. The latter of which, had an unforgettable impact. Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, and Beanie Feldstein all gave outstanding performances which impacted the film positively, but there simply isn’t time to talk about them in a review as brief as this one. Instead, I’ll devote my attention to the actors playing the two largest parts, and giving easily the two strongest performances in the film: Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan.
Laurie Metcalf is previously best known for her work on TV between Roseanne and The Big Bang Theory, and has three Emmy wins for her performances in the former. With her performance in Lady Bird, though, not only is Metcalf almost guaranteed an Oscar nom for playing Lady Bird’s mother, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a win were to follow. The balance Metcalf strikes in the film between stone-cold, firm, responsible mother and emotional, loving friend is simply brilliant. Greta Gerwig’s writing plays a big part, but Metcalf’s performance makes the audience share Lady Bird’s perspective of her mother. With the nature of the film’s plot structure, this is perfect for telling the story in the best possible way it could have been told. I could go on for another paragraph or two about Metcalf, but I have to get to Saoirse Ronan.
Ronan plays the film’s title character, Lady Bird. At 23, Ronan already has two Oscar nominations, and after seeing this film, I’m confident a third is to follow (frankly, she could easily win with this performance.) I’ll get to how writer/director Greta Gerwig impacts the story as on author, but in the meantime, I’ll just say that Ronan had the difficult responsibility of creating her own character while also understanding the author’s vision behind it. Ronan is an incredibly skilled actress, and the way she executes this is a marvel. The different stages, and simultaneous levels, Ronan put into this character is incredible, perfectly grasping and conveying the subtle emotional development her character undergoes over the course of the movie. Lady Bird is a movie I intend to add to my personal library, not just because it’s a great movie, but also because I want to study the brilliance of Ronan’s performance in bringing this character to life.
The final aspect of acting I will mention here comes with the chemistry Ronan shared between Laurie Metcalf, who played her mother, and Tracy Letts, who played her father. While still a ton of the credit is due to the performances for this chemistry, most of the praise is due to Greta Gerwig, who authored the screenplay and directed the film.
While not officially said to be so, the setting of Lady Bird in Sacramento in 2002-2003 leads to the theory that the film is at least semi-autobiographical for Gerwig. Whether or not this be the case, the observational intelligence Gerwig utilized in writing this screenplay and directing her actors creates those unforgettable moments and relationships, each of which carry an overpowering flavor of authenticity. I am not exaggerating when I say that for anyone over the age of eighteen, this film is going to feature at least one major moment that makes you think, ‘that’s just like me.’
This film looks at subjects like romantic relationships, familial relationships, bold or modest aspirations, and the brutal moments of disappointment that we were all two familiar with when making the awkward transition from child to “adult.” There have been some great coming-of-age stories over the years which deal with one or two of these topics, but none have managed to fit in them all. With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig includes them all, yet somehow manages to strike a balance where we appropriately feel the same sense of overwhelmingness we felt at that time in our lives, without making the film’s plot too overwhelming for a 90-minute movie.
Greta Gerwig has been working to her solo-directorial debut for some years, and now that it’s finally here, it’s far better than anyone could have expected. As much in her directing as in her writing, Gerwig displays incredible skill in crafting a difficult and resonating story. Organizationally this film is perfect, authentically this film is unmatched, and in terms of performances, Lady Bird stands above any film I’ve yet seen this year. I like Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig, so I was very hopeful this movie would be good. After seeing it, however, I regret ever thinking Lady Bird would be anything less than brilliant. Because brilliant is exactly what it was.
I give Lady Bird an 8.7/10.