Having written and co-directed films in the past, Greta Gerwig makes her debut as sole writer-director with Lady Bird, easily one of the year’s best films. Funny, insightful and deeply personal, yet wholly relatable for anyone who’s ever lived through the difficulty of attempting to define oneself early in life, Lady Bird is the first must-see film of this year’s awards season.
Played by Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird refers to the film’s main character—and while it’s not her legal name, she identifies with it more than her birthname, Christine. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), is a difficult one; Marion works extremely hard to provide a life for her daughter, which is admirable, yet constantly smothers her child in passive-aggressive criticism and intrusive demands.
R, 93 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX and Violet Crown Cinema
When we meet Lady Bird, she is a senior in high school, a time in everyone’s life where you are trapped between two worlds. Do you go to college near home or as far away as possible? Do you use the opportunity of leaving home to reject your old identity in favor of a new one? That is Lady Bird’s struggle, only she seems to experience it in fast-motion and slightly earlier than everyone else. She begins the school year by spending all of her free time with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), and practicing for the school musical.
Lamenting that she grew up in Sacramento, Lady Bird waits for the day that she can experience the East Coast. To her, the former is boring and stifling, while the latter is dynamic and exciting. After years of anticipating her hard shift to a new life, she’s lost the ability to gain new interests and friends without breaking with the old ones. As she makes inroads with the popular kids, she spends less time with Julie. Her first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) is a co-star in the play, and it all seems perfect, then she discovers him kissing a boy at the cast party; she is heartbroken for the lost relationship, but their friendship is eventually rekindled.
Her next boyfriend is the exact opposite: a faux-insightful rich kid who smokes while conspicuously reading A People’s History of the United States. He both indulges his privilege and disparages it, as only the privileged can, but he has wild hair and a rebel’s charm that is primed for Lady Bird’s eyes at that moment.
Ronan (Brooklyn, The Grand Budapest Hotel) continues to astound with her seemingly effortless, layered performance, and Metcalf is terrific as Marion. Her dialogue is almost universally hostile, but as we become more familiar with her deeply ingrained feelings on recognition and hard work, we understand how she got here. The supporting cast is perfect, even those portraying caricatures, because let’s face it: When you’re 18 years old, sometimes you have to be a caricature of something you’re not to realize who you really are.
One extra dimension that takes Lady Bird from good to great is its understanding of how adults fit into this world. It’s always a risky endeavor for grown-ups to accurately capture authentic teenage behavior and mindsets. Gerwig’s authenticity in doing so comes from treating her characters as three-dimensional—it is also from setting the film in 2002 to 2003, when she was the same age as her characters. The representation of adult depression in Lady Bird is unique for a movie about high schoolers. Lady Bird’s father is the first who is explicitly referred to as depressed, but one by one you can see the signs in other grown-ups. This is no detour or extraneous side plot: Children form relationships and define themselves with one another, but they do so in the world their parents create. If Lady Bird’s father has chronic depression, she may not be aware of it, but she has been affected by it.
Gerwig has always been an exceptional storyteller, either as a performer or co-writer. With Lady Bird, she proves that this instinct extends to all aspects of the filmmaking process.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Coco, Justice League, Murder on the Orient Express, Thor: Ragnorok, Wonder
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Coco, Justice League, Roman J. Israel, Esq., The Star, Wonder
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Coco, Daddy’s Home 2, The Florida Project, Justice League, Loving Vincent, Murder on the Orient Express, National Gallery, The Square, Thor: Ragnorok, Wonder