Lady Bird (2017)

R Running Time: 93 mins

SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

  • A thoughtful, authentic, laugh out loud, cringe-worthy film which gets nearly everything right.

  • Saoirse Ronan is fantastic and Laurie Metcalf gives a career-best performance in Greta Gerwig's insightful essay on the purgatory between those last teenage years and the start of adulthood.

  • I love this movie. It's messiness. It's ugliness. It's happiness. It's beauty. Lady Bird is breathtaking.

NO

  • The vignette-style approach to storytelling will leave some people cold, as it lacks convention.

  • Unafraid to show people's flaws, and often saying things we seldom are comfortable saying out loud, the film retains a rough-around-the-edges tone that will challenge sensibilities.

  • Forces viewers to confront truths about themselves they often don't like to acknowledge. The movie lives in an honest, awkward place and is all the better for it. Still, it might ruffle feathers with its fearlessness.


OUR REVIEW

In Greta Gerwig's brilliant, moving, and hilarious Lady Bird, Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson is 17 years old and ready to begin her senior year at an expensive private Catholic high school in Sacramento, California. The year is 2002, and the country is still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks from the previous year. The tech bubble has burst and older computer savvy employees have either been downsized, excised, or replaced by cheaper, younger workers. As a country, we are in a bit of a funk here, but life perpetually moves along, no matter what.

That life has brought Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) to her final year of high school. She is jaded, bored, and believes she is ready - ready to move from "the Midwest of California" and relocate to New York City, seeking "culture" and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to get as far away from home as possible. 

Mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is a nurse at a nearby psychiatric hospital and Dad Larry (Tracy Letts) is teetering on the edge of holding onto his job. Money is tight and the family is stressed. To help make ends meet, Lady Bird's older brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and wife Shelly (Marielle Scott) are also at home, and brother and sister antagonize one another repeatedly. 

Whether mother and daughter are bonding, crying together, or viciously arguing after completion of a massive, unabridged "The Grapes of Wrath" audiobook on a long road trip, or Lady Bird is pushing to ignore nearby colleges and considering a move far away from home for school, Gerwig's film retains a stunning authenticity about teenage friendships, relationships with parents and the dichotomy of strength and vulnerability that exist within them.

When movies and television feature parents and children bickering, oftentimes melodrama is heightened and the reasons behind the arguments appear fantastical in nature. As Lady Bird pinballs her way through a fast-moving senior year, Gerwig places us right in the middle of these moments, allowing us to observe, consider, and reflect. In a way, her camera is also pivoted around on us, aiding us in rekindling our memories from more youthful days, either as the child or the parent caught up in any number of similar situations. 

Gerwig crafts just the right words to keep the film from veering off course and feeling disingenuous.

For her first stint behind the camera, she has assembled a terrific ensemble cast. Two boys pop up on the radar for Lady Bird: Danny (Lucas Hedges), a theater and stage kid makes Lady Bird decide to audition for the fall play. Timothée Chalamet's Kyle plays bass in a high school band and seems aloof and mysterious. Best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, terrific), is just finding her way, cautious and kind of clumsy, kind-hearted, and forever loyal to Lady Bird's quirks and eccentricities.

Ronan, a two-time Oscar nominee (Atonement, Brooklyn), finds a completely different character, different from anything she has done before. She embodies a churning, unsettled young woman, carrying bottled up angst and frustration broadly across her shoulders. Over time, she begins to recognize that the world does not revolve solely around her and the film delivers great impact in allowing us to share in those moments with Lady Bird. 

As great as Ronan is, my mind keeps thinking about Laurie Metcalf, a supremely talented veteran actor, who has three Emmys on her mantle for playing Roseanne Barr's sister in the early 1990s television sitcom "Roseanne." Lady Bird marks her first live-action theatrical film in nine years, and she is a revelation.

As Marion, she is a firebrand - testy, anxious, blunt, honest, and prone to frequent pervasiveness. Her inelegance can agitate and get her in trouble, but she commands our attention. Something of a bull in a china shop when it comes to parenting, any obstacles a viewer puts up against her melts down quickly in one pivotal scene where her stubbornness gives way to raw emotion and foolish pride. In the end, a simple embrace from Metcalf provides one of the most powerful moments you will see on screen this year. Metcalf becomes Marion, and she feels genuine, raw and real, she could be your neighbor, and, as a result, offers one of the year's best and most unforgettable performances.

With numerous scenes and sequences that will make you laugh out loud and catch yourself smiling ear-to-ear, Lady Bird also knocks you off-kilter by constantly finding the warmth and humanity pulsing throughout some outrageousness. Gerwig's screenplay never wastes a beat, and yet, Lady Bird could be an acquired taste for some, with her vignette-style approach in telling this story a bit accelerated for some viewers. 

For me, the approach works perfectly, emulating just how teenagers and young adults see and process their world and all that's happening around them.

Rich in contrast and contradiction, Lady Bird is messy, unkempt at times, and all the more beautiful because of it. Gerwig is having a ball with her script, lest we forget the stabs and jabs at organized religion and conventional institutions.

Lady Bird moved me to tears more than once and speaks volumes about the "push-away" and "pull-close" relationships children develop with their parents. The film had me laughing early and often, thinking, pondering, and wondering if my college pursuits, and those of my wife, were as stressful on our parents. I also reflected on a daughter Lady Bird's age, off to college far away from home. The core of this movie gets so much right, it is as insightful as it is affecting. 

A beautiful film that speaks to so, so many truths and realities, extending far beyond its anticipated target audience, Lady Bird is one of 2017's best films. I cannot wait to see it again.

CAST & CREW

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Odeya Rush, Jake McDorman.

Director: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig
Release Date: November 3, 2017
A24