If you are anything like me, and if you are, I’m sorry, but IF you are, those last months of high school were about the weirdest of your life. You aren’t sure what you want to do with your life, but everyone is asking you. You have a young adult’s body but still struggle with an adolescent mind and emotional state.
You have reached the highest heights you think you will ever reach, but know in the back of your mind, that you are just getting started. You think your parents are idiots at best and nobody understands you. This is the world that Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan) inhabits in Greta Gerwig’s fantastic directorial debut, Lady Bird.
The movie opens with a sweet mother/daughter moment as they drive back from a college visit listening to the audio book of “The Grapes of Wrath”. They both seem to enjoy the book and share a laugh as the story closes, her mother wiping away a tear. That is the last good moment between the two of them for the remainder of the film.
Christine’s mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf in an Oscar worthy performance, is working as a psychiatric nurse doing double shifts due to the layoff of her husband played with such grace by Tracy Letts. Marion is tough, the world has not dealt her an easy hand. Her paycheck has to support a household of 5, everything she does is to support this family and this leaves no time for herself. The resentment and lack of appreciation, especially from Christine is starting to wear on her. It makes her appear to be cold and short with her family. The truth is, she has given so much to this family that she’s barley surviving herself.
Christine is an intelligent if under achieving, creative young woman who is pretty much disinterested in school and, it would seem, desperate to leave her home in Sacramento. She has demanded everyone call her by her new “given” name “Lady Bird” which she has “given” to herself. She struggles with finding her fit in the world, her Catholic school guidance councilors are trying desperately to find a college that will accept her given her less than stellar academic record. She tries hard to please her mother really, but her mother is just too callused by life to show too much warmth.
As her year progresses, she goes through what so many people her age go through, falling in love for the first time, having sex for the first time, trying out for school plays, getting rejected for colleges. Christine wants to try other lives. She alienates her long time best friend in order to hang out with a girl of a perceived higher social value. (prettier, from a more well to do background). She even goes so far as to tell her new friends that she lives in a home that is literally on the other side of the tracks, because it’s nicer than the modest home she shares with her family.
Saorise Ronan is spectacular as Christine. She hits all the rights notes as a young woman who is maybe a bit more of an artistic, creative soul, who still seeks to fit in someplace, but doesn’t know where that place is. I knew women like that in my own high school years, I gravitated to them because in many ways these young women were kindred spirits to my own gawky view of myself back then, Ronan doesn’t miss a nuance, and her portrayal is as heartfelt as it is humorous. Ronan is one of the world’s up and coming actors.
As good as Ronan is, Laurie Metcalf is jawdroppingly good as Marion. She shows such a hardened soul but still able to convey that deep down she has this enormous heart that is covered up by the disappointments of life. She steals this move in every scene she is in.
The third act of the film is the only part I have any issues with, it seems to be disjointed both in tone and in a dedication to authenticity. I won’t spoil it here, suffice it to say I found it all too convenient in it’s approach. It does not, however, take away from just how good this movie is.
This movie was written and directed by Greta Gerwig who I have loved in everything I have seen her in as an actor. Her screenplay and direction show a sensitivity and honesty to it’s characters, especially Christine. I have read that Lady Bird is semi-autobiographic al.
The coming of age story is one of American cinema’s biggest franchises, but I cant recall one being produced that is as good as Lady Bird, one that treats the young people at the story’s core with such genuine affection, honesty and care. I suspect that this film will be recognized heavily at award time.
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