Synopsis – In the early 2000s, an artistically-inclined seventeen year-old comes of age in Sacramento, California.
My Take – It’s not easy for an actor/actress to transition from a job they have so firmly perfected at over the years, to becoming the one in charge of realizing their vision on screen, while keeping the immense pressure of the critics aside, it’s the audience’s acceptance or rejection that can determine which route his or her career would take. Here, Indie darling Greta Gerwig takes her shot behind the camera, with a film that takes a hilarious look on life and the wonders of the world that we all might have actually faced. While the year sure was filled with many surprise treats, it should come as no shock that even though most people (including myself) stood in long queues to check out the next superhero film or a certain high-profile space opera, the year’s most charming and engaging films should emerge under the radar. Honestly, this film has been on my radar since it opened to immediate critical acclaim upon its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival earlier this year. Along with scoring the highest score ever on Rotten Tomatoes (an excellent 99%), the very high praise from early screenings has also helped the film gross over $28 million against its $10 million budget, after watching this film (finally) it wasn’t hard to see why all the immense love was poured. While taking on the coming-of-age angle, with high school kids and awkward relationships at the center of it has become somewhat of stale genre, here, director Greta Gerwig makes sure her absolutely fabulous comedic and memorable film, starring the stunningly talented Saoirse Ronan along with a cast of other magnificent performers, stands on its own and hits you right where it counts, all the while supplying laughs, gasps and even a tear or two along its incredibly efficient 94 minute run-time.
The story follows Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), an average high school senior in a Catholic school, who decides to instead go by the name Lady Bird to help her stand out from the usual crowd. Despite living with a supportive family, which consists of her mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), her Dad Larry (Tracy Letts), her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott), Christine wants more in life, a life she believes awaits her outside Sacramento, somewhere, where she will be appreciated for simply being herself. As time passes, she leaves her lifelong best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) in the dust, breaks up with her boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges), and jumps at the chance to being friends with Jenna (Odeya Rush), the popular girl and her inner circle of rich kids, which includes Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), a bohemian-wannabe type member of a band. Over time she faces the trials and tribulations of dating, losing her virginity, trying to be popular, feuding with her best friend and mother, and ultimately trying to figure out what to do with her life. Things get tough for her and she examines her relationships with friends and family to ultimately come to the best decision for her. I know the plot sounds quite typical, and in many ways it is, yet everything about the film is done so well in the expert hands of novice filmmaker Greta Gerwig. In the scope of coming- of-age stories, the tale of this film might seem all too familiar and yet, the film excels splendidly thanks to the thoughtful and sensitive writing and direction and the awe-inspiring turns from every single actor involved. The screenplay is subtle and exhibits small quiet scenes of discourse that never once cross over the derivative threshold of melodrama. Director Gerwig, basing this loosely on her life manages to provide a vision of pure art while maintaining the qualities that make high school films popular and entertaining in the first place. This is the best kind of film, where it simply gives us a full- blooded character, full of complexity and contradictions, and asks us not to agree with her or side with her or even necessarily like her, but rather to spend some time with her and see if by the end of her story we can understand her. Here, director Greta Gerwig also defies traditional categorization, as the film is part teenage comedy, coming of age, family drama, and character study yet it’s also so much more as she guides the film’s amusing story and wildly identifiable characters with a sense of confidence and glee. The film goes by at a rapid pace, with the editing being stylish; scenes jump from a moment’s climax to the middle of the fallout in the next, giving the audience more than enough to understand the weight of the situation while not bogging down the film with rehashed platitudes present in the genre and the dialogue is witty and funny without being too cheesy, realistic without edging on dull. These are characters that feel familiar, but never become caricatures. The film does an amazing job of presenting the world from Christine’s point-of-view, while showing the real memories, hardships, lessons and choices made during these strange years of our lives. There are multiple twists and turns in the plot that keep the story fresh throughout. When Christine discovers her first love, Danny, is gay, she stops speaking to him out of anger, but later she forgives and hugs him, after he reveals that he’ll probably be rejected by his family if he comes out of the closet. Similarly, the theme of forgiveness is also played out in Christine’s relationship to her best friend, Julie, with whom she has a falling out over her new relationship with Jenna, a bad girl to Julie the good. Practically everything in the writing works to the quirky dialogue, realistic back and forth between characters, and our heroin’s progression and change throughout the story.
Most will find the screenplay refreshingly original along with a few jokes that are just too hilarious to not laugh at, especially the scene with the football coach who subs for their original teacher and directs Shakespeare‘s “The Tempest” as if it’s a football game and the beleaguered drama students all must cope with the coach’s crazy approach. What I love here is how much of the film’s beauty is presented without the need to be explained or put into words. Discovering the love of a place, of family, of experiences, are human themes that, when done well, will never get old. A small montage of mother and daughter enjoying a day visiting various open houses packs an emotional punch that can only be felt in the context of their relationship and situation. Along with Marion breaking down in the car after dropping Christine off at the airport is so simple, yet one of the most powerful scenes of the year. It happens organically, and is deserved because of how much tenderness and care is put into the character development up until that point. Sure, Christine’s mom may come off as scary to others, but in all fairness, her own mother was an abusive drunk, and she’s been through a little more in life then many of these high school kids. It’s not always as easy as some people make it out to be. There is a certain scene where Christine’s mother talks about her dad’s battle with depression for years and Lady Bird telling her that no one ever informed her about it. Later in the film, Lady Bird’s mom scolds her for not sharing more information with their family, proving the fact that there are moments in both the adult and children’s world that do not always cross paths. I think we also see that Christine can be a little intimidating as well with her confidence and free-spirit attitude roaming the halls of school and her home. She is kind and loving, yet up front and blunt. There’s something in this film for everyone, we may not all be now, nor have ever been a pink-haired teenage girl in Sacramento, but we all know what it’s like to feel unsure about who we are and who we want to be, as the film covers familiar experiences, but not only the pleasant ones, as Gerwig‘s directs the way Christine’s mom parents with toughness and care, she also explores the humor and hurt with equal deft. If there are any negatives to dish out, the surprising lack of external conflict could’ve hurt the story slightly in my opinion. Sure, being more of a character study, the film focuses on the heroin’s journey internally but if more external conflict was available to possibly push her further to grow even more, this could’ve strengthened the already good payoff for the character’s climax. While the writing is top-notch, the performances are equally astute. Saoirse Ronan is a star, and after absolutely blowing everyone away with her Oscar nominated role in Brooklyn, she once again does a great job as a rebellious yet empathetic teenager as her angst does feel like it comes from a genuine place. She’s just amazing. Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are great in supporting roles as her supportive but long- suffering parents, and both are given a lot of great moments to build off of and a surprising amount of development. Lois Smith has a couple of outstanding scenes as a wise and observant nun. Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott and Lucas Hedges are good too in small roles. Beanie Feldstein is a complete scene stealer here. Feldstein is just a ton of fun in the part and the chemistry she shares with Ronan builds up much of the film’s heart. On the whole, ‘Lady Bird’ is one of the best films of the year, which with its steady stream of humor, heart, and honesty, also makes it one of best coming-of-age films ever made.
Directed – Greta Gerwig
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes