Lady Bird (2017)
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig
Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neil
Cinematography by Sam Levy
Edited by Nick Houy
BowTie Harbor 9, Annapolis, MD (1:33)
On the surface, Lady Bird seems like a movie I shouldn’t relate to in any way. It’s about a high school senior (Remember, I’m in my 50s) at a Catholic school (I’m Protestant) in California (I’m from Mississippi) in 2002 (I graduated in the 80s). Plus, she’s a girl; I’m a guy. We have literally not one thing in common.
As the film opens, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronon, left), who has renamed herself “Lady Bird,” is riding in a car with her mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf, right), looking at colleges. They’ve just finished listening to the audiobook of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which should tell us something. It takes about 30 seconds for the two of them to start bickering. Lady Bird wants to go to an East Coast college; her mom says they can’t afford it. Lady Bird says she’ll get a scholarship; her mom says she’s not capable of earning one. We think we know where this is going, we think we’ve seen this all before. For about the first five minutes of the film, I felt like I knew exactly where it was going.
Boy, was I wrong.
Later in the film, Lady Bird’s mother articulates her expectations to her daughter: “I just want you to be the best version of yourself.” Lady Bird responds, “What if this is the best version of myself?” Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the film, goes far beyond our expectations by not exploiting the mother/daughter relationship, but rather lightly touching on the various elements of 17 to 18 years of living with each other. These elements are sprinkled throughout the film and while they may be light touches, they’re not without depth and complexity.
The same can be said for all of Lady Bird’s relationships. Consider her out-of-work dad (Tracy Letts), her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), her teachers, friends, and especially her best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans (Beanie Feldstein, who is amazing in the role). All of these relationships are familiar but here they feel lived-in, not the copy-and-paste stereotyped relationships we normally see in coming-of-age movies. The cast is amazingly good (especially Ronan and Metcalf), but Gerwig’s writing elevates the film, avoiding cliché and predictability. It doesn’t go for cheap laughs or cheap shots. Neither does it pander to rank emotionalism. It’s an incredible balance, especially for a first-time director.
I don’t want to say too much about what happens in the film. It’s best that you experience that on your own. Lady Bird also contains many cultural references and touchstones that have changed since its 2002 setting and some that haven’t. One of those is the setting at a Catholic high school. While Gerwig doesn’t dwell on this aspect, it’s important, especially when… Well, you’ll have to see the movie for yourself. Let’s just say it’s a certainty that I’ll be buying this film when it comes out on Blu-ray. I can’t wait to see it again. It’s a film that both gives me hope and strengthens my faith. I’m not a 17-year-old girl, didn’t attend a Catholic school, didn’t tryout for the school musical, etc., but this film spoke to me. See if it does the same for you.
Photos: Variety, Playbill, tiff