'Lady Bird' film review: Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age winner
The beautifully, painfully and universally relatable indie winner “Lady Bird” (opening in additional cities Nov. 10) is a handcrafted time capsule and a winning directorial debut, anchored by a stellar ensemble cast and highlighted by one of the great lead performances of the year.
In short: A year in the life of high school student Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson as she deals with the boys, turning 18, fitting in at school, a tumultuous relationship with her mother and her dream of leaving Sacramento for the big city. Stars Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts.
Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s debut as a feature filmmaker is a beautifully composed triumph that feels like a high school senior’s diary brought to life. Lady Bird’s personal and intimate moments are the fabric of this story. While the film takes place over the course of a year, Gerwig vividly crafts the concerns/hopes/worries of a girl-not-yet-a-woman. Gerwig accomplishes the rare feat of shaping a period piece set in 2002 that is unabashedly but unpretentiously nostalgic. Most attempts at chasing ‘nostalgia’ are cloying attempts that simply reproduce a set design with a dated soundtrack – but Gerwig grasps the ephemeral, emotional truth of the high school experience.
At its core, “Lady Bird” is a multi-layered relationship drama as the titular character chases her dreams and figures out who and what she is. Gerwig tells Lady Bird’s story with an aware maturity – one that values the character’s thoughts but not without acknowledging how short-sighted or selfish Lady Bird can be. She is allowed an array of character strengths and imperfections – vulnerabilities that make her entirely too relatable. Her dimensional character is then let loose upon her catholic high school, where she’s allowed to dynamically bounce off a rich cast of characters.
Learn how to pronounce Saoirse Ronan’s name again – because she’s making another Award Season run this year with this incredible lead performance. And Ronan is not simply good enough to make the field of nominees – her timeless, accessible turn earns her distinction as one of this year’s top contenders. Ronan taps into the insecurity and assertiveness of every high school senior ever – she knows everything but her quiet moments belie her lingering self-doubts. Ronan absolutely defines the very specific and somewhat eccentric main character – but fundamentally rooting her with easy-to-relate to qualities.
Every ‘best ensemble cast’ award must seriously consider this well-balanced team effort. From top to bottom, “Lady Bird” is packed with supporting characters who keep the film humming along without losing its heart. For a film ostensibly about a girl dealing with high school, “Lady Bird” has a ton of moving parts and parallel subplots, all of which are intricately interwoven to tell one beautiful story. The film’s excellent ensemble cast keeps the film fluidly moving along and moving together.
“Lady Bird” feels like an unofficial, spiritual prequel to the brilliant 2013 arrested development indie comedy “Frances Ha” (which was also co-written by Gerwig). The pair complement each other as the perfect double feature, following the uncomfortably relatable misadventures of the Sacramento girl desperate to leave her hometown and the New York woman she became.
Final verdict: Gerwig’s directorial debut is an outright triumph that captures of essence of that awkward year straggling childhood and adulthood. “Lady Bird” is one of the truly great coming-of-age films and an essential film of 2017.
"Lady Bird" is rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying and has a running time of 93 minutes.