First, let me say that Lady Bird has nothing whatever to do with LBJ’s wife. The name is self-applied by teenaged Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a high school student facing the challenges of her senior year. Writer/director Greta Gerwig presents many familiar situations but enlivens them with quirky details inspired by her own life. The result is a relatable and often very funny portrait of a young individualist.
Lady Bird and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are enough alike to be on each other’s nerves constantly. A clinical psychologist, Marion works diligently to keep their family afloat after her husband Larry (Tracey Letts) loses his job. Marion manages to keep Lady Bird in a private Catholic high school, which her daughter detests.
Living in Sacramento, which she calls “the Midwest of California”, has become intolerable for Lady Bird. She chafes at Marion’s plans for her to attend an in-state college and applies to New York colleges in secret. By Lady Bird’s reasoning, it should be easier to get in because of 9/11 (the story takes place in 2002-3). She seems relatively unconcerned about her lackluster grades and the fact that she will need financial aid.
Besides this, Gerwig includes smaller plot lines that will be recognizable to anyone who has been a teenage girl or known one. The dumping of a loyal best friend for a cool one, a couple of romances, school plays, a prank on a teacher…. Gerwig keeps a fairly upbeat tone throughout and stays clear of snark. Even the teacher who is pranked manages to see the joke.
Saoirse Ronan is nothing short of remarkable as Lady Bird. Although she does not physically resemble Gerwig, she has mastered Gerwig’s body language. It is easy to think of Lady Bird as a young version of Frances Ha (Gerwig’s 2012 film with Noah Baumbach). Ronan (now 23) also beautifully conveys Lady Bird’s mix of awkwardness and ambition. Her performance is so finely calibrated that it hardly seems she is acting. Metcalf is equally terrific as Marion. The two performances inform and ground one another.
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) make strong contributions as Lady Bird’s romantic interests. There’s also a wonderful performance from Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising) as Lady Bird’s loyal best friend.
Greta Gerwig appears to have been blessed with a senior year that approximates a John Hughes movie. By the time you finish watching Lady Bird, you will be glad of this-and hoping a film about Christine’s college years is in the works.
Theme: Leaving High School
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