Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is an authentic coming of age tale with a genuine sense of time and place. Sporting superior performances down the line, it also announces actress Gerwig as a director and writer to watch.
The time is 2002 and the place is Sacramento. Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior at Catholic high school who goes by the self named moniker of Lady Bird. She wishes to be anywhere but California’s capital city, yearning to attend college on the East Coast. Her relationship with mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is complicated and strained as many tend to be during that tenure. Dad (Tracy Letts) is more of the softie, but also dealing with his own issues of unemployment and unhappiness.
In addition to her familial issues, we see Lady Bird in two romantic relationships. The first is with Danny (Lucas Hedges), the theatrical guy who she performs alongside in the embarrassingly accurate portrayal of a high school play. And there’s Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), the brooding musician who rallies against the establishment and believes he’s far more profound than he likely is. We also see her friendships with the key one being Julie (Beanie Feldstein), her kindly and insecure bestie.
Gerwig grew up in Sacramento and attended Catholic school. While she’s said Lady Bird is just semi autobiographical, it sure feels like she knows these people and their situations very well. This applies to the main players and the smaller ones, including Lois Smith’s helpful nun and Stephen McKinley Henderson’s drama teacher.
We’ve seen many a film about dealing with adolescence. Like The Edge of Seventeen last year, Bird manages to be a genre highlight with its honesty and earned laughs and emotional resonance. The central relationship is the mother/daughter dynamic. It’s written well and much credit goes to Ronan and Metcalf for their terrific inhabitations of them.
Lady Bird also touches on class (the family is constantly trying to make ends meet), sexuality, and feelings of where one belongs. Ronan’s appealing creation goes through life believing there’s no place other than home that she wants to be. Gerwig knows the home lovingly detailed here. She knows that the young woman growing up before us will soon recognize its significance to her and how it’s shaped her. When the credits roll, you can imagine Lady Bird writing about it someday. And that it’ll turn out to be quite appealing.
***1/2 (out of four)