It is ironic that a movie called Lady Bird is opening the exact same day next week as Rob Reiner’s new LBJ, but while that really fine film is definitely about President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird is NOT about his First Lady even though the name is the same. Far from it. This Lady Bird represents actress Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut and it is the nickname given to herself by a high school teen girl named Christine McPherson played immaculately by the luminous Saoirse Ronan.
The film, which Gerwig also wrote solo following several previous screenplay collaborations including two with Noah Baumbach on her starring films Frances Ha and Mistress America, is set in 2002 Sacramento, California where Christine attends a Catholic school while also dealing with the shaky bond between her and her domineering, impossible to please mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) who is trying to hold the family together by working double shifts as a nurse after her husband Larry (Tracy Letts) has lost his job.
The opening scene as mom is driving Christine sets up what is to come beautifully and with supreme comic timing between both stars who manage to keep it funny and real. In fact, as I say in my video review above, that would be an apt description for the entire movie which may just be the best comedy of 2017. Check that. Lady Bird IS the best comedy of 2017, as well as one of its best pictures even if its pleasures are not earth shattering. Those pleasures are indeed the stuff of life and that makes it recognizable and instantly relatable.
Gerwig, who grew up around this time in Sacramento and did attend a Catholic school, is obviously holding this story close to her heart in many ways to tell this coming-of age and coming apart story dealing with mother/daughter conflict, and a wonderfully unique young woman striving to flee the nest. Scenes set at school with her friends are true gems, particularly those revolving around the various drama class productions including Shakespeare’s The Tempest in which a football coach fills in as director, and a go at Sondheim’s legendary flop musical Merrily We Roll Along.
Lady Bird also is crushing on handsome teen Danny (a very fine Lucas Hedges) until the realities of their lives get in the way. Then there are more boy encounters with uber cool musician Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), which is amusing to watch. Also really terrific in this exceptionally bright young cast is her BFF, Julie played to perfection by Beanie Feldstein (who also happens to be Jonah Hill’s sister). Their scenes together hit the mark and even touch the heart, but it is still the back and forth with mom that lifts this film to a whole other level as further friction is caused when Lady Bird secretly applies to a New York University against the wishes of her mother who wants her to stay close to home.
With all the truths, this little-movie-that-could offers I would be hard pressed to label it a “teen movie” even if it fits in that genre. Like last year’s superb The Edge Of Seventeen with a wonderful Hailee Steinfeld performance, and before that the Oscar-winning Juno, this is a very human and often funny movie that just happens to center around a teenage girl. Gerwig proves herself to be a wonderful observer of life and that is something that just can’t be categorized or put into a box.
If there is any justice there will be lots of awards recognition for Ronan, who follows her beautiful Oscar-nominated performance in Brooklyn with another every bit its equal. Metcalf ,coming off her Tony winning role in A Doll’s House Part 2, is looking at a Supporting Actress nomination for her brilliantly crafted work here. Letts adds a nice warm presence as Lady Bird’s understanding dad. Producers are Scott Rudin, Evelyn O’Neill and Eli Bush. A24 releases the film November 3rd. A must.
Do you plan to see Lady Bird? Let us know what you think.