It strikes me as a funny coincidence that, after just having seen and reviewed LBJ, I should be watching and writing about a movie titled Lady Bird. Of course, this movie has nothing to do with any President, being concentrated on a Catholic teen girl in 2002 Sacramento – it’s just a happy cinematic parallel, is all. The film, Greta Gerwig’s directorial feature debut, does deal in post 9/11 America, but almost nothing to do with W. Bush or anything “political”. It’s hard enough coming of age in any era, let alone right after such a tragedy. For Lady Bird, the real tragedy, as far as she sees it, is where she’s at.
“…smoothly tender and will speak to everyone everywhere.”
This is a contemporary-ish Wizard of Oz to put it semi lightly. Lady Bird, played by a most exceptional Saoirse Ronan, goes on a Dorothy like journey through her final school year before college. Which college, where and how much it’ll cost all make for many an argument with her mother, the “Auntie Em” of this story, Laurie Metcalf. Metcalf and Ronan’s chemistry give Lady Bird its initial thrust, showcasing two women on different yet very similar wave lengths. It’s clear towards the end just how close these two are in personality, when Lady Bird begins going through a most wonderful arc that may inevitably lead to becoming like her mother. Acknowledging too how stubborn and sometimes inwardly selfish the mother can be, a picture comes into focus of parent and offspring stuck in a near genetic moebius strip, destined to live through the same lessons and awkward disasters over and over.
For sure, we get the equivalent of “There’s no place like home”, only without the clean resolution. There’s an open ended answer to this movie that brings to mind Orson Welles’ line about how happy endings depend on where you end a story. Lady Bird is, more or less, about the path to that ending than the ending itself. Lois Smith shines here for the limited amount of screen time she has, as a nun at the high school Lady Bird attends. There’s a wonderful confrontation sequence where Smith exposes a prank Lady Bird did earlier, only to laugh about it and express a wonderful bit of wisdom regarding the college / future dilemma the teen sees herself in. I dare not paraphrase, but for this not so spiritual person, it hit me quite hard.
“…a strong confidence in the direction.”
The movie hits quite hard a lot, actually. Lady Bird’s mature transformation and wit along the way provide some stunningly relatable and tearfully memorable moments. Her first love that ends in confusion, her first lust that ends in disappointment, her friendships and so on. Gerwig’s whip smart movie is touching at all times, and heartwarmingly hilarious often. I was reminded of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It at times, but Lady Bird transcends such comparisons by being great at one important thing: being itself. There’s a strong confidence in the direction that’s felt throughout, possibly coming from real world experience? Possibly coming from years in the industry? Or possibly coming from having been Lady Bird herself. Who knows.
Tracy Letts as the sentimental and caring “good guy” father brings together a movie of profoundly emotional performances with heart, with wisdom and with grace. When he gives his daughter a birthday cupcake, we see not only the hardships of this family, but the manner to which they treat these hardships. They’re family, and that will get them through. Lady Bird is smoothly tender and will speak to everyone everywhere, in unexpectedly sweet and cutely funny ways, if you give it a chance to do so – which I hope you do.
Lady Bird (2017) Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig / Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
5 out of 5