Lady Bird (2017)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Much like its titular character, “Lady Bird” doesn’t bother sticking to one story for very long. It’s happy to jump around, free-flowing and self-deprecating in a way that a character like Juno would appreciate. The film isn’t driven by its story, but about its many relatable characters and their consistent ability to make us laugh and cry.
Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) finds it hard to appreciate her life. She envies the students at her Catholic school in suburban Sacramento who come from wealthy families. She fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf), who works double shifts at the psych hospital so Lady Bird can maybe go to a local college. She dreams of leaving Sacramento for the east coast, but her family couldn’t afford it. In the months leading up to graduation, Lady Bird struggles to accept her identity, her family situation, and her uncertain future.
Taking inspiration from her own life, screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig fills “Lady Bird” with cultural references both recognizable and obscure. The backdrop of post-9/11 America offers its own opportunities to speak about the changing cultural landscape. President Bush was lionized among middle-class Americans, for no other reason than a collective fear. That only drove rebellious high schoolers to push back against their parents further, and to educate themselves about current events. While Bush isn’t namedropped, the setting is a distinct and important actor in the film. The world in which Lady Bird lives might be timestamped, but her personality is universal. After her Oscar-nominated role in 2015’s “Brooklyn” (her second nomination, after “Atonement”), Saoirse Ronan is likely to have attentive eyes on her every time she stars in a movie. That attention is deserved. I hate to bring up “Juno” again, but I can’t help but to. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, her unlucky-in-love history, her wiseass jokes…sure, that describes any number of young ladies, but for me it kept brining up positive memories of Juno. It’s a good thing to be compared to—“Juno” remains a cultural landmark of a movie, so unique yet so relatable it’s a wonder its screenwriter hasn’t found much success since (though I love Diablo Cody and you should see “Young Adult,” which is also self-deprecating and hilarious)…anyway, I’m way off track. But if the memories of “Juno” and “Young Adult” bring up happy thoughts for you like they do for me, then “Lady Bird” should also entertain you.
But, like those other movies, “Lady Bird” isn’t all giggles. Laurie Metcalf is the film’s emotional heart, or at least the catalyst for those emotions. Without her, “Lady Bird” is a one-dimensional comedy. Lady Bird’s struggles to find common ground with her mother is predictable, sure—she’s a high school girl. But the way their relationship is portrayed wouldn’t have been possible without Metcalf and Ronan. Metcalf should be considered the current favorite for Best Supporting Actress. “Lady Bird” has been talked about in the higher echelons of the movie critique community for a while, but I haven’t heard much buzz elsewhere. I’m here to tell you, it deserves more talk. A movie this enjoyable should be seen by as many people as possible.