Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Timothée Chalamet
After her relentless on-screen presence, playing the same characters in every movie, Greta Gerwig makes her directorial debut. The original screenplay based on her own teenage years, is what you would expect from the Mistress America actress. Yet, somehow with Oscar nominated Saoirse Ronan essentially playing Gerwig, it’s far more immersive and enjoyable. It’s a charming first feature filled with beautiful understanding in all areas of family. The assembled supporting cast is quite good, including 2017’s breakout star Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Hostiles). Yes, it’s another coming of age story, with a slightly different angle that manages to be self-reflective for anyone watching.
Sacramento is not where 17-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Ronan) wants to remain after high school. She wants to attend a college on the east coast, but her dad (Letts) just lost his job and her mother (Metcalf) isn’t having it. She’s constantly being told by parents, teachers, recruiters at the catholic school, that her grades and work ethic would never be enough to get into a prestigious east coast school. He senior year is spent focusing on applications, the school’s theater project and boys. Specifically, Danny (Hedges) who is her first love. On her 18th birthday she buys cigarettes, a lotto ticket and a Playgirl, because she can. That’s how Lady Bird lives her life, one attention getting moment at a time.
It’s a charming first feature filled with beautiful understanding in all areas of family.
There isn’t anything revolutionary about Gerwig’s script or direction. The fact that it doesn’t feel like a first-time effort is the best complement she can expect here. I find what Gerwig does in front of the screen anything but entertaining, although her small role in Jackie was her best to date. Behind the camera she manages to get memorable performances from some great actors. Ronan completely disappears in this role, behind the pink bleached hair and west coast accent. It’s amazing to contrast her work here with Brooklyn. If nothing else, Lady Bird extends Ronan’s yet again. Letts (The Lovers) continues to be a scene-stealer with his small role. Metcalf returns to the big screen after almost a decade as a tough mother with a heart of gold.
There is a sequence in the third act that raises the film a letter grade as Lady Bird takes a giant step toward maturity. For most of the film, we watch this immature teenager, so naïve in the ways of the world, steam roll towards an epiphany moment. “I want to live through something,” she says. Chalamet is essentially playing James Franco here, as an artist who can’t be bothered with simple things. I found Hedges performance far more interesting than what he did last year with Manchester By the Sea. Gerwig deserves credit, it’s her film after all, but Ronan makes this work where another actress might go too far in any other direction and cause the audience to turn on the very character we came to see.
Gerwig’s directorial debut proves she is better behind the camera while Ronan expands her range on screen.