Movie Review: 'Lady Bird' (2017)

Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s endearing coming-of-age dramedy is a breath of character-driven fresh air. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a spunky, unconventional, and extremely confident 17-year-old. Heading towards the end of her high school career with little personal direction, and a laser focus on getting into a college on the east coast, Lady Bird has hit a crossroads. She is ready to fly the coop.

While the way she goes about it, may not be the way some of us would navigate that rough road towards independence, Lady Bird often sings with a familiar tune. Unlike many films where the protagonist is reserved enough for the audience to project themselves in their place, Greta Gerwig gives the world an ultra-dramatic lead, whose giant personality is somehow relatable, frustrating, and entirely unique.

As the title suggests, Lady Bird is the star attraction and as she rambles, rages, and even delights in her final months of high school, you cannot help being entertained. Just as her life, ebbs and flows with highs and heartaches, Lady Bird’s relationship with her mom (Laurie Metcalf) similarly endures.

She shares blunt, hurtful, and sometimes beautiful moments with her hardworking mother, whose similarities to her daughter, put them in direct conflict at this point in their lives. There is a counterbalance to the notion of “opposites attract.” Those who are too similar often experience a repelling sensation.

Even in the uncomfortable, candid moments of hostility between mother and daughter, the love between them is never absent. That being said, the friction between them creates most of the tension present in the film.

Throughout “Lady Bird,” you can hear echoes of the 1999 drama “Anywhere but Here,” a film about a teen also desperate to get away from her mother and the west coast. “Lady Bird” is a far more upbeat movie, filled with greater levity and more hope of a lasting relationship between mother and daughter after the credits roll, which is a welcomed switch.

[Image by A24 and Universal Pictures]
In "Lady Bird," fun is had, friendships forged, mistakes made, and regrets shared. Greta Gerwig captures it all, within a nicely-paced hour and a half. Gerwig has such an acute sense of how long a scene should last that she never lingers more than she should. With comedies, that is a rare gift.

Bringing Gerwig’s script to life is an incredible cast that includes some of Hollywood’s most promising rising talent and a terrific turn by veteran actor Tracy Letts. Perfectly cast in the starring role, Saoirse Ronan gives another impeccable performance as Lady Bird.

Among her peers, Ronan’s range is unrivaled. While watching, it is hard to reconcile that the same actress playing the irrepressible Lady Bird is the same one who played the timid Eilis in “Brooklyn.” On paper, both characters share a longing to venture beyond their home, even though who they are could not be more juxtaposed.

As Lady Bird, Ronan must portray a spectrum of contradicting emotions. In one scene, Lady Bird is an intense firecracker fighting for her dreams of flight with barbed words that cut her love ones deeply. In another, she comforts a friend with a quiet calm that is assuring and utterly selfless. By the end, she is a conglomeration of all these facets, a fierce yet fragile human.

Ronan plays all of this with an abandon that makes Lady Bird feel real and with a character as over-the-top as she is, that is not as simple as it sounds.

As the sounding board to her daughter’s theatrics, Laurie Metcalf portrays one of the few fully dimensional moms, that's been presented in recent films. Marion McPherson is every bit the force her daughter is, and Metcalf conveys that with zero aloofness.

The hard-boiled realist to her daughter's dramatic daydreamer, Mrs. McPherson struggles to balance maternal encouragement with the necessity of handing out reality checks. She's scared of offering unconditional support to a bright, albeit immature teenager, and the movie indicates she may have a valid reason. That is a rare concession for any drama, especially one centered on teens.

Mrs. McPherson clearly cares for her unique daughter but understandably fears for her entrance into a world where that is not always treated as a valuable trait.

That inner conflict between pride and anxiety is one of “Lady Bird’s” constant themes, and it rings with tremendous truth. There is something charming and timeless about that combination, and “Lady Bird” is indicative of why it works so well. It makes you laugh and teases with tears.

Rating: 9/10

[Featured Image by A24 and Universal Pictures]

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