Delving into equal parts poignancy and playfulness with surety and poise, Greta Gerwig makes an impressive and unhesitating directorial debut with the charismatic coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird. A rare and relatable portrait of youth, and from a female perspective (Gerwig also wrote the screenplay), this is a film effected with affection, authenticity, and deliberate indulgence.
Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, in the umbrage of post-9/11 America and the uneasy economy that came with it, Lady Bird limns the often bitter bonds between break loose seventeen-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her strenuous mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf).
Lady Bird’s affable father Larry (Tracy Letts) has lost his job and struggles with depression as he tries to reenter the workforce, putting additional stress on Marion, who works industriously as a nurse, and worries endlessly about her daughter and her post-high school plans. Lady Bird dreams of going to school on the East Coast, or anywhere that isn’t Sacramento, a place she feels is a cultural vacuum.
Ronan, who’s amassing a very impressive resume in diverse and extolled films such as Atonement (2007), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Brooklyn (2015), here presents what may be her career-best performance as the titular rebellious heroine.
Lady Bird is a wide eyed young woman, yes, but she’s no sucker, and watching her find first love, revived self-determination, faux pas, failures, and success is a no small wonder. Lady Bird glides towards unassuming greatness, building from the teen-centric youth-oriented films by the likes of Amy Heckerling and John Hughes, but downplaying the male gaze and with an emphasis on better pronounced honesty and insights.
“Aren’t they the same thing; love and attention?” asks the mother superior (Lois Smith) of Lady Bird’s Catholic high school to her in her office after a refractory little prank. The Sister, like many of the adults in Lady Bird’s life, recognizes her sweet nature and tenacity, and treats her with the intelligence she deserves.
It’s nice to see this type of film that, while it takes a trajectory that is familiar, it isn’t one overpopulated with caricatures, platitudes, or predictability. There’s an aching honesty at play, and to see the agitation and confusion of adolescence played out with surprisingly strong resonance and repartee is a delicious thrill.
Nimble, nuanced, and rewardingly reflective, Lady Bird alights with artistry and ease. Not at all a film specifically for young girls, but for anyone who’s strained to make allowances for those you love and/or ever struggled coming into your own.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.