“Lady Bird,” a movie so good it’ll make you call your parents

November 17, 2017

Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is probably not the first coming of age movie you’ve seen, but it might be the best. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, this film is an honest, funny and sincere look at growing up, and I can’t recommend it enough. The film stars Saoirse Ronan (who recently earned an Oscar nomination for her work in “Brooklyn” and now certainly deserves another), as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, as she transitions through her senior year of high school into college. I know, this isn’t the first time a movie has captured someone’s senior year as they go on an emotionally maturing journey, but “Lady Bird” refuses to fall into conventional tropes even as it treads familiar territory.

“Lady Bird” is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, who up until this point, has worked as both a writer (alongside Noah Baumbach on “Frances Ha”) and actress (appearing in last year’s “Jackie” and “20th Century Women”). Now full disclosure, I’m actually really unfamiliar with Gerwig’s work, but “Lady Bird” made me really interested in checking out the rest of her oeuvre.

But from what I’ve gathered, a lot of “Lady Bird” is autobiographical: the film is set in Sacramento, the main character’s mom is a nurse, and Christine attends a private Catholic high school, all of which Gerwig experienced herself firsthand. Things always feel personal, but not too self-indulgent, because there’s always just enough ironic distance between Gerwig the director and young Gerwig, Lady Bird. In other words, we spend the right amount of time laughing “at” Lady Bird as well as laughing “with” her. Gerwig also really shines behind the camera: she uses a lot of ninety-degree heavy Wes Anderson-esque shots, but things never get too quirky. Gerwig also enlists legendary composer Jon Brion to do the score, and things are expectedly fantastic (Brion wrote the awesome “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” score, as well as produced much of Kanye West’s “Late Registration”).

What this movie really got right was the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. Now, it helps that Gerwig gets incredible performances out of both Saoirse Ronan (as I’ve already mentioned) and Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird’s mom, Marion. From the very start of the film, we can see that these two people can’t really stand to be in the same room.

Maybe you’ve picked it up from the fact that I’ve been referring to her as “Lady Bird,” but the protagonist of the movie is a rebellious teenager. But it’s a rebellion that always seems authentic, and the anger that she incites in her mom feels just as authentic. They have fights most everyone has experienced with their own parents when they reach the end of high school: where Lady Bird should go to college, but more importantly, whether or not Marion or Lady Bird is in charge of Lady Bird’s life. It’s a complicated question that’s part of a complicated relationship, a relationship that hasn’t been resolved by the time the credits roll. But that’s the way life works.

I must stress that this movie is so much more than just a depiction of a nuanced mother-daughter relationship. It’s also hilarious. Gerwig gets a lot of laughs out of Lady Bird’s two boyfriends and her forays into falling in love, as well as some great drama-club comedy. But the movie also just took me back to how high school made me feel: the intense highs, the crushing lows, the friendships that grew and changed, and worst of all, the many school dances. It may not be reinventing the wheel—last year’s “Edge of Seventeen” dealt with a lot of similar subject matter, but with nowhere near the same impact. Case in point, when the movie ended I called my parents, and it’s not like “Boyhood” could get that out of me. “Lady Bird” is an instant classic, and will certainly earn a place on my top ten of the year.

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