‘Lady Bird’ perfectly shows a slice of teen life
The teenager nicknamed Lady Bird is obsessed with her place in the world, in her Catholic high school, in her school play, in her own family and in her unglamorous hometown of Sacramento (“theMidwest of California”) and the even less glamorous neighborhood where she lives.
She craves sophistication in a way that she can’t quite put into words or actions, beyond a vague desire to go to an East Coast college, but she’s certain that whatever she has in her middle- class existence in 2002 isn’t sophisticated.
Part Angela Chase, Lindsay Weir, Jo March and Anne Shirley, she is selfish and self- centered in that very particular way that teenage girls can be, and she can’t yet comprehend that this is a phase that might pass. And she is one of themore achingly realistic teenage characters we’ve had the pleasure of meeting in a movie.
Played by Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn,” “Atonement”), Lady Bird and the film bearing her name are the semi-autobiographical creations of actress and writer Greta Gerwig in her solo directing debut.
“Lady Bird” depicts one year in the life of its title character (whose real name is Christine McPherson), fromthe start of her senior year of high school to freshman year of college and all of its beautiful banalities — sex, prom,
money, grades, boys, nuns and that gnawing dissatisfaction that has plagued every 17-year-old who’d rather die than admit that things might be OK.
The film begins with a quote from Joan Didion: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
It’s the kind of quote Lady Bird would love to think she’s the only one who understands. But the truth is, she likely has not yet discovered that patron saint of California girls.
She hasn’t discovered a lot of things: Clove cigarettes, Jim Morrison, what “the deuce” is, how to drink liquor or that her school has an annualmusical. And she doesn’t yet knowhow to look out for herself and others, whether it’s her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse, or her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
All she can see is what she doesn’t have, so she carelessly skips over the tiny triumphs of her friend, and is blind to the fact that her mom might actually have her best interests in mind, or that her father Larry ( Tracy Letts) might be struggling, financially and mentally.
It’s these tiny, painfully honest details that make up Gerwig’s rich and lovingly composed film, which bursts with wit, humanity, joy and truth.
Ronan adds another superb performance to her already stunning résumé playing this sometimes unlikable yet empathetic character, who will make you cry, laugh and cringe. But it’s the wonderfully drawn supporting characters who truly bring this world to life and make this film such an undeniable pleasure.
Metcalf is at the top of her game as Marion, and there are too many delightful side characters to do justice to here: Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as two very different kinds of high school boyfriends; Lois Smith as a wise and funny nun; JakeMcDorman as an impossibly charming teacher; and Stephen McKinley Henderson as a melodramatic drama coach are among the standouts.
But Feldstein’s performance as Julie ranks as its own kind of sleeper triumph. She makes us sit up and take notice of an excellent actress who, until this point, basically has been used as only a punchline (see “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”).
“Lady Bird” feels like a companion piece to “Mistress America” and “Frances Ha,” both of which Gerwig co-wrote with Noah Baumbach andwhich he directed. But left to her own devices, Gerwig has arrived— solidifying her place as one of the most invigorating, observant and authentic voices in movies now, with a director’s acumen to match.
We should be especially grateful when something as lovely as “Lady Bird” comes along.
Lady Bird, played by Saoirse Ronan, right, with a boyfriend, played by Lucas Hedges, in 2002Sacramento.