Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is a whimsical portrait of a young woman growing up and navigating the world around her. Set in the early 2000s in Sacramento, California, the film is a vivid and unapologetic coming-of-age story centered around Christine McPherson (but you can call her Lady Bird).
Lady Bird (played daringly by Saoirse Ronan) is a vivacious character, colored with all the idiosyncrasies that your best friend might have, which is perhaps why she feels so real. She is assertive and spirited, yet we are also able to see her in moments when she is tender and unsure of herself.
Her relationship with her mother, Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf), authentically depicts a mother-daughter relationship that teeters between daily arguments and moments of affection. From the very first sequence of the movie, the director establishes their push-pull relationship. While driving home from a college tour, Lady Bird and Marion share a bonding moment as they both shed tears listening to the end of The Grapes of Wrath. It is only a matter of seconds before they explode into an argument, ending with a comedic exit. The film has many scenes like this, where Lady Bird and her mother repeatedly clash over differing views, yet it is clear that her mother still loves her unconditionally. The film eloquently captures this prevalent aspect in many mother-daughter relationships and embraces the flaws that make the characters human.
Of course, no coming-of-age story in cinema would be complete without the trials and triumphs of romance. Lady Bird experiences boyfriends ranging from the too-good-to-be-true sweetheart (Lucas Hedges) to the too-cool-for-school jerk (Timothée Chalamet). However, Gerwig doesn’t let these characters steal the spotlight from the leading lady. Too often do coming-of-age teenage comedies center around a romantic relationship. Lady Bird manages to include a relationship as another passing phase rather than the focal point of the story.
Aside from the gorgeous color grading, witty script, and alert editing, what makes the film so compelling are its characters. Marion is judgemental and sometimes harsh, but she also shows love and truly wants the best for her daughter. Larry, Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts), is quiet and supportive, despite his own personal struggles. And then, of course, there are the classic character types like her annoying big brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), her dorky best friend (Beanie Feldstein), and the popular girl that she tries to befriend (Odeya Rush).
However, Lady Bird is fiercely individualistic and when she makes mistakes, she doesn’t apologize. She doesn’t feel like some far off glamorous seventeen-year-old that is distant from the audience. Rather, she feels like a close friend, one who demands your attention and will loudly call you from across the room if you don’t respond.
Even if you don’t like coming-of-age high school movies, you should probably see this one.