Lady Bird marks Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, a high school comedy over the course of a senior year, and the results are quite excellent.
Lady Bird seems to be a semi-autobiographical of the writer/director’s own experiences in Sacramento, California; the “Midwest of California.” Wanting to desperately escape the state, Lady Bird’s (that’s her given name, given to herself, by her) family is short on money and can’t afford to go to an east coast liberal arts college; not that she could get into one of them, according to her mother. Focusing on four relationships, (Lady Bird with her mom, her best friend, her boyfriends, and her relationship with being cool) Gerwig takes Lady Bird through the whole coming of age experience, but it feels more honest and true to life than most movies make these types of movies feel.
Gerwig doesn’t fill the film with stereotypes or tropes of the teen genre, and maintains all the quirk and comedy we’ve come to know her for as an actor. The film’s point of view feels original and authentic, and female. This film speaks to anyone who went to high school in the early oughts, but I can only imagine it feels even more personal to the women who see it. Gerwig captures the setting perfectly and even when the film gets a little silly it still feels true. Gerwig has more than a few writing credits, but this is as sharp as Frances Ha with even more heart than that film. There is an innocence to Lady Bird that feels what it feels like to look back at how we knew nothing when we were kids, without feeling like nostalgia in the slightest.
The film is also just fun to watch. The pacing and tone is just so deftly handled by Gerwig, who can go from absurd to heart wrenching drama with ease. Gerwig’s script and editing are just so tight, but you feel like you get to know everyone so well. Lady Bird’s family time is mostly focused around her and her mother’s relationship, but by the end of the film, it earns some amazing beats with her brother, dad and “sister” as well. The friendship between Lady Bird and Julie is also as authentic as one could imagine, even when that inevitable wedge gets driven between them. It makes Lady Bird look selfish, but it also wasn’t out of character.
Saoirse Ronan plays the titular Lady Bird and she does a great job of playing Great Gerwig. I know that isn’t terribly fair, but Ronan does an amazing job of playing to that Gerwig type, it feels like she is going to evolve into Frances Ha after she goes off to college. In fact, Gerwig sort of did her coming of age trilogy in reverse, as Lady Bird is an excellent companion to Frances Ha and Mistress America. But back to Ronan, who really is great and can handle anything Gerwig throws at her, nailing every bit of humor and drama along the way. Laurie Metcalf is also excellent as Lady Bird’s mother, who is stern, concerned, but also real and loves her family. She might hold grudges and be a bit too petty at times, but we never doubt her devotion and love for her family, even when Lady Bird is being a bit much.
Tracy Letts is low-key great as Lady Bird’s dad and he acts exactly like you would expect him to act being pitted against a personality like Lady Bird’s mother. All of the other younger actors in the film are also quite good, coming in and organically fitting into the world Gerwig created, with Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein and Jordan Rodrigues being the biggest stand outs of the group. I wonder if Timothée Chalamet was supposed to be some poking fun of the “Jess” type of Gilmore Girls, but maybe there were just a bunch of dark and dreamy haired a-holes running around at that time and I just never noticed. Must have run with the wrong crowds.
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is an excellent debut and one of my favorites of the year. I hope Gerwig continues to take us into her head from behind the camera, as she assured us with her first effort that she is a director to watch. Funny, full of heart and incredibly honest, Lady Bird is not to be missed.
P.S. Jon Brion’s score is GREAT!