Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut “Lady Bird” is so effortlessly charming and easy to enjoy that within the first twenty minutes I thought to myself: I already want to see this again.
It’s a coming of age film, revolving around Catholic high school student Christine, aka Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) during her senior year, when she has to decide what her next step is. Lady Bird lives in Sacramento, a place she despises (she wants to go to college in New York where there’s “culture”) but also has a reluctant, sentimental appreciation for. The kind of appreciation we feel towards our hometown no matter how much we want to leave. Lady Bird is intelligent and well spoken but doesn’t really apply herself to anything. She wants to move to the east coast for culture but she doesn’t partake in much culture around her. Nor does she doesn’t appear to have any hobbies or passions.
In this regard, the movie is a witty, poignant chronicle of a bright but insecure teenager who has yet to figure out who she is. Throughout the film we see her try on a number of different identities with unsatisfying results; she joins drama club for a brief period. She befriends the rich, popular kids. She tries out teenage rebellion. Of course, this is all very entertaining for us to watch and may possibly hit home. Though ultimately, “Lady Bird” is less about finding yourself and escaping then coming to terms with what you’ve got. Appreciating the good times you had growing up in your “awful” hometown and savoring the few substantial relationships in your life that you may have taken for granted because of egotism. The film ends on a bittersweet note of homesickness and ambivalence.
“Lady Bird” is full of recognizable characters and situations, recognizable both from other coming of age movies and probably your own life. Lady Bird has a hot and cold relationship with her strict but caring mother, (played by Laurie Metcalf) she smokes weed, loses her virginity, dates a couple of boys, has a couple tearful heart to hearts with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and uncomfortable conversations with guidance councilors. But there’s an honest, serio-comic vitality ingrained in Gerwig’s screenplay that’s unforced and immediately intoxicating. You want to keep watching. The character interactions are natural while the dialogue is sharp and detailed.
Gerwig gracefully balances adolescent comedy and drama in ways that feel familiar and fresh; tense patches of familial dysfunction compliment spontaneous, laugh out loud moments. At the very beginning, when her mother goes off on a harsh, tough love speech about college and Lady Bird’s future as they’re driving to Sacramento, Lady Bird jumps out the passenger door to avoid hearing the rest; a clever take on the classic teenager-storming-out-of-the-room scene.
Meanwhile, the direction is precise and elegant. Gerwig’s camera skips between Lady Bird’s various adventures and encounters with so much ease. The film gives off an easygoing vibe without meandering; Nick Houy’s editing is tight and a quiet yet noticeable momentum propels the action forward. Gerwig finds a sweet spot between slice of life character study and plot driven comedy.
Though none of this would be possible without Ronan who continues to prove she’s one of the best actresses working today--injecting her bratty but well-meaning heroine with an intoxicating sympathy and charm. Along with Gerwig, she makes “Lady Bird thoughtful, earnest, slightly melancholic and very, very funny. I didn’t want it to end. I could watch Lady Bird’s antics and sincere reflections all week. In fact, just inject this movie straight into my brain.