Saoirse Ronan plays the title role in this sweet film from Greta Gerwig.
Christine — who calls herself Lady Bird, hence the film’s title — is trying to figure out her next step in life. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) plays a high-school senior who dreams beyond her current life attending a parochial school in Sacramento. She auditions for a musical with her BFF Julie (Beanie Feldstein, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), falls for her fellow actor Danny (Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea), and argues with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) about her college preferences.
Director Greta Gerwig loosely based the script on her own experience as a teen in the early aughts. The family TV is usually switched on to news coverage from the Iraq war, teens listen to Dave Matthews Band, and cell phones aren’t ubiquitous. However, the film doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with repeated pop culture references about the time period—Lady Bird is more interested in exploring timeless themes of coming-of-age, personal growth, family relationships, and economic class.
Along with her life experience that influenced the film, the writer/director infuses the comic drama with her love of Sondheim and her witty sense of humor. Ronan plays Lady Bird as a snarky teen who grows more into her self as we watch. She’s disappointed by love interests, has a falling out with Julie, and cannot seem to find common ground with her mother.
The anxiety and worries of the lower-middle-class family pervade Lady Bird. Marion constantly frets about their tight budget. Lady Bird’s dad Larry (played by playwright Tracy Letts) is on the verge of unemployment, and her older brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues, The Fosters) and his girlfriend live at home after graduating college.
Class disparity is a significant element here, as well. Most of her fellow students reside in nicer neighborhoods; in a scheme to get in with popular kids, Lady Bird pretends Danny’s grandmother’s house is her own. As she hopes to get into a school out of state, it seems natural for the character to want to move beyond her parents’ income bracket and the fretting that comes with it.
Meanwhile, mother Marion aims to keep Lady Bird grounded and realistic about their situation. The mother/daughter relationship is itself the grounding of what could otherwise be a more flighty comedy. The two actresses strike a perfect tone in their portrayal of this contentious, yet still loving, family dynamic. Lady Bird makes full use of its strong ensemble of actors, but Metcalf’s performance is striking enough that I’m still considering her moments in the work weeks after seeing it.
Lady Bird is Gerwig’s first solo project as a writer/director, and reminds us that amidst the clamor of men doing bad/creepy things in Hollywood, women directors are still trying to make their voices heard. Lady Bird is beautifully and smartly made, and I’ll take it as a hopeful sign of more good things to come.
Lady Bird opened Friday, Nov. 10, at Violet Crown Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and the Regal Arbor.