Cinematic Releases: Lady Bird (2017) - Reviewed

Every artform has their “skills check” challenge. For traditional media artists, it’s the self-portrait. For chefs, it’s a light and fluffy French-style omelet. For filmmakers, it just might be the coming of age story. When done well, the coming of age story is relatable, honest, and timeless – done poorly, it’s saccharine, meandering, and pointless. Last year, writer/director Mike Mills worked with Greta Gerwig on the fantastic 20th Century Women, a coming of age story from the perspective of a young man in 1979 Southern California. Now Gerwig has penned a script of her own, and has taken her seat in the director’s chair to attempt to capture a young woman’s story in a different time and place – this time Sacramento, California in 2002. Does Lady Bird manage to capture the time, place, and drama in the same way as 20th Century Women, or has Gerwig failed this “skill check” challenge? 

In a word, no. Lady Bird is a bright, vivacious, and most importantly, honest look at the little triumphs and tragedies of becoming a woman in the year 2002. The film takes on a vast number of issues, and yet each seems to be given the respect it deserves in its tiny moment in the grand scope of the film. The plot follows the titular Lady Bird, a gregarious young woman played with skill and depth by Saoirse Ronan, in her final year as a senior at a Catholic high school, as she flits from social scene to social scene, deep in the infinitely relatable search for belonging. None of these moments feel disingenuous or caricatured, Lady Bird really does get what it means to be a Catholic, a child, a parent, popular, unpopular, nerdy, trendy, gay, straight, chaste, promiscuous. Lady Bird and her supporting cast of characters never fully commit to any of these labels, but the film’s exploration of them surely does. 

Chief among that supporting cast is Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as Lady Bird’s mother, Marion. Marion is a deeply flawed, nuanced character brought to life by Metcalf. It’s one of those roles that beautifully addresses one of the hardest truths about life – being a perfect parent is practically impossible. Marion is impatient and insensitive, and it becomes immediately apparent why Lady Bird is the person that she is at the time of this film. It’s thoughtful detail in the characters like this that makes the film’s world feel well-worn and lived in. The rest of the supporting cast bring some meaningful heart and humor to the story, including a few laugh-out-loud moments that are made only sweeter by the film’s darker scenes. One of the film’s best features is the quiet, unrefined wisdom of some of its younger characters. Several lines stick out as being profoundly honest, in a way that the inexperienced character’s themselves probably fail to grasp. It’s moments like this that make Lady Bird a beautiful film. 

Technically, the film commits no real sins; it is shot simply and focuses squarely on the humans that make its story great. The music is unobtrusive, except for the inclusion of a “hot hit” from the early 2000s that completely captures the essence of the times in the film. No performance in the film falls flat, although there are certainly better performances than others. The complexity of the mother-daughter relationship, however, is the film’s strongest area, with both Ronan and Metcalf delivering in spades. 

Lady Bird is an intelligent, honest, and thoughtful film. Allow yourself to slip into this slice of American life, allow yourself to laugh at the well-timed 9/11 joke, and you’ll find a lot to love about Lady Bird

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-Patrick B. McDonald