Lady Bird

Time goes by and hopes go dry
But you can still try for your dream!

Lady Bird gives a confident audition for the high-school musical, Merrily We Roll Along, but she’s cast in the chorus while her best friend gets the lead. She falls for a guy, and finds out he’s gay at the cast party. Lady Bird tells her mom she wants to go to the East Coast, “where culture is,” and her mom snaps back, “You won’t get into those schools anyway.”

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No matter the odds, Lady Bird is determined to make something of herself. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, which she directed and wrote, is a warm coming-of-age comedy about growing up different. Based on Gerwig’s own experiences, Lady Bird’s senior year at her Catholic high school is a confusing and exciting time to be alive. She’s got that nickname (“It was given to me by me”) and dyed pink hair, but she’s still figuring everything out. 

Lady Bird has her own style. She’s the student who gets in trouble for interrupting an anti-abortion assembly. She’s not that into Sacramento, and she’s definitely not doing the Catholic thing anymore. But she’s also, in her own words, from the wrong side of the tracks. Set in the early 2000s, this family’s economic worries feel very timely. The costs of private college tuition have exploded in the last fifteen years, and families like Lady Bird’s struggle to balance their children’s future with paying the bills and keeping up with their affluent neighbors. Her father’s just lost his job; her mother’s working extra shifts to make ends meet. When Lady Bird befriends one of the popular girls (definitely a mean girl), she lies about her home address, equating her own coolness with her family’s wealth.

Lady Bird packs a lot of observational humor into a quick 93 minutes. Sometimes the editing feels too tight, too eager to cut away, when you want to see a little more. There are some subplots Gerwig doesn’t explore much; a medical diagnosis scene with the Father comes to mind. You may have mixed feelings about the ten-minute epilogue, which tries to wrap everything up neatly in a movie that might not need tidy resolutions.

But all of Gerwig’s characters feel wonderfully specific, maybe because they are based on people she knew and observed in high school. She checks off all the high-school hallmarks, but even teenage acts of rebellion and a botched prom night are charmingly told here. The cast is great: standouts are Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s mollifying father; Lucas Hedges as her crush Danny; and especially Beanie Feldstein as best friend Julie, who nearly steals the movie. And Laurie Metcalf’s mother Marion is heartbreaking. She has a way of cutting Lady Bird down to build her up (so she thinks), knowing just how to dig in to elicit a reaction. Marion is driven by pragmatism and thrift. There’s no use for being reassuring or affectionate. All she wants, though she doesn’t always show it, is for Lady Bird to be her best self. (Lady Bird responds, “What if this is the best version?”)

Saoirse Ronan has become one of our best young actresses, following on a lovely performance in Brooklyn. She endears us to Lady Bird, who is clearly a work in progress. She’s decidedly original–she probably decided that herself–but she doesn’t always know what that means. Sometimes you wince, when she feuds with her mom or rails against Sacramento, but you know she’ll grow out of it. It’s a common feeling, needing to leave home to appreciate it more. We don’t see many mother-daughter stories written and directed by women, and that sense of discoveryand familiaritykeeps Lady Bird fresh.

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