Review: Lady Bird

Lady Bird (2017)
Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

Lady Bird is exactly the movie you expected Greta Gerwig to make if everything went right when she finally wrote and directed one on her own. I’m mildly surprised that it is so universally loved – it is the best-reviewed film of all time according to RottenTomatoes – though I guess I can’t really think of a reason why it shouldn’t be. Gerwig has already proven herself a likeable actress with a noticeably different kind of on-screen presence, and films she’s co-written and co-directed have been well received.

It just seems that there are already a hundred films about smart, quirky teens wanting to get out of whatever town they’re from, struggling with demanding parents, and not quite fitting in at their small Catholic schools. At different moments in the movie, one might be reminded of the most recent Peter Parker, or Juno, or Molly Ringwald, and I’d guess that a person’s response would depend on how one feels about these films. Sure, it’s a well-made movie with excellent acting, but so are they, and every critic can’t love a good coming-of-age tale.

Yet somehow Lady Bird does seem to put its own mark on the genre, even while it employs such time-honored devices as the school play, high-schoolers in rock bands, pranks on nuns, overweight best friends, going to the prom without a date, and girls lying in fields with boys as they stare at the stars together.

By definition, a coming-of-age tale usually resolves with some kind of disillusionment, and disillusionment is often our first step toward cynicism. There’s something sweet and refreshing about Lady Bird’s determined lack of cynicism without getting all Pollyanna. Unexpected moments of grace, humor, and humanity turn almost every character into something more than a trope or caricature. We’ve seen the uptight nun principal, but maybe not like this. We’ve seen the loser older brother who, despite his college degree, is still a bagboy at the grocery store, but maybe not like this.

The movie even does something different with disillusionment, placing it in one place where we’d kind of expect it, but offering it as (unnecessary, if you ask me) contrast to other situations where Lady Bird experiences a sort of anti-disillusionment, and it feels like a pretty flower somehow opening up even more into something really beautiful.

I don’t know how Saoirse Ronan pulls off being a California teenaged girl, but she does it excellently. Even knowing where she’s from, I wouldn’t bet money that her Irish accent in Brooklyn is her regular speech and her American accent in this movie is an affectation. Laurie Metcalf is sure to be nominated for a supporting actress Oscar, but if you’ve seen her as Sheldon Cooper’s mom on The Big Bang Theory, I don’t think she’ll surprise you. You could tell something like this was in her, even though they are really nothing at all alike. The other actors are almost as terrific, with Beanie Feldstein’s feeling like the debut of a major talent as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie. Interesting tangent: she’s Jonah Hill’s sister.

My favorite movie of the year so far.


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