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Review: Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017)

Directed by: Greta Gerwig

Premise: Set in the early 2000s, a student (Saoirse Ronan) who answers to the nickname “Lady Bird” passes through her last year of high school. Lady Bird’s family is in financial straits which causes social awkwardness and limits her college application options.

What Works: Lady Bird is a coming of age story comparable to titles like Breaking Away and Lucas. These movies work best when they are understated and embed the character mechanics within the subtext. That’s generally true of Lady Bird and the movie manages to be quietly profound. The story follows the title character in her last year of high school as she passes through many of the typical rites of adolescence like her first love and testing the boundaries of authority. But these familiar scenarios are presented with a rawness and complexity that distinguishes this film from other high school pictures. Lady Bird is so titled because it is about the main character and her struggle to figure out who she is. “Lady Bird” is a nickname she has adopted for herself and throughout the movie she deliberately disconnects and reconnects with different groups of friends and different types of romantic relationships in an effort to define herself. The movie does this in a very natural way and the tone is managed exceptionally well. Lady Bird is very funny but the humor is restrained by an atmosphere of melancholy that runs throughout the picture. That duality of humor and sadness is apparent in the film’s exceptional performances. Lady Bird is led by Saoirse Ronan in the title role. Ronan is a very good actress but this role is a bit different from some of the other characters she has played. To the movie’s credit, Lady Bird is a difficult and sometimes disagreeable person. But Ronan keeps her interesting and likable enough so that the film never alienates the audience. The result is a complex and nuanced portrayal of adolescence. Laurie Metcalf is cast as Lady Bird’s mother. Like her daughter, the mother is also difficult but she remains accessible and the film captures the complex relationship between middle-aged parents and adolescent daughters in a way that has a lot of authenticity. Beanie Feldstein is also notable in a supporting role as Lady Bird’s best friend; there is a lot going on underneath the surface of her performance. Lucas Hedges is cast as one of Lady Bird’s boyfriends and he’s revealed to struggle with personal issues that the movie deals with very well.
What Doesn’t: Every character in Lady Bird copes with sadness or dissatisfaction with their lives. However, most of the supporting characters are sad but we never find out why. This is especially notable with a priest played by Stephen Henderson. He conspicuously vanishes from the teaching staff and is later seen in a nursing office without sufficient explanation. The weakest part of Lady Bird is its ending. The film is about this young woman’s desire to escape her day-to-day life in Sacramento, California and she idolizes the East Coast and specifically New York City. There are a million stories about young people going to the Big Apple to find themselves and Lady Bird doesn’t add much to that conceit. The movie wraps up a little too neatly in a way that is inconsistent with the raw and complex tone of the rest of the picture.

Bottom Line: Lady Bird is an impressive coming of age story full of great performances. It remains within the box of this kind of film—Lady Bird is no Boyhood—but the tone is managed perfectly in a movie that is funny and sad in equal measure and it renders visible some ineffable truths about the transition to adulthood.

Episode: #676 (December 3, 2017)