“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
“What if this is the best version?”
In the early 2000s, an artistically-inclined 17-year-old comes of age in Sacramento, California, in the comedy-drama Lady Bird. This girl, well played by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Brooklyn, Hanna), initially calls herself “Lady Bird” as an act of defiance amid a turbulent time with her mother Marion, also well played by Laurie Metcalf (Toy Story, TV’s Rosanne).
Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Greenberg, 20th Century Women) directs and writes this amazing, semi-autobiographical story, which took her about one year to write. Lady Bird is a high-quality experience because the filmmakers take the time to fully realize Gerwig’s screenplay as she also retains her vision and control during the film creation process as director.
Even at a modest 94-minute running time, Lady Bird covers endless emotions and relatable life experiences while creating multiple touchstones that connect with audiences. It’s a heartfelt and honest journey amid an all-girls Catholic school that now joins the movie ranks that define “coming-of-age.”
This genre presents experiences audiences might relate to, but that’s where the similarities stop. Is this personal story tedious for the audience? No. Uncomfortable at times? Yes. That’s where the emotions well up from thanks to an amazingly authentic screenplay as the source.
After a genius orientation sequence that initially seems amicable, audiences see first-hand evidence that Lady Bird and Marion’s strained relationship is already bursting at the seams.
Lady Bird has insight, but seeks answers to why she feels a certain way (e.g. “Are love and attention are the same thing?”) while Marion is all about the actions she sees and recalls. It’s a battle of wills that touches on past and present emotional abuse, but nothing starkly intentional just honest.
These strong-willed leads have a tragic inability to communicate with each other where Lady Bird feels Marion blames her for everything and Marion feels Lady Bird is not living up to her potential. This film establishes key elements in this relationship and resulting actions (e.g. Lady Bird gives a false home address to a classmate) then goes even deeper without any flashbacks just key dialogue.
Lady Bird and Marion’s differing dialogue blends each perspective while retaining and refining their individual stances. Lady bird copes with anxiety and insecurity while her mother doesn’t want to go back to that. Marion’s demanding, yet loving plus insightful but guilt-inducing as she wants a worthwhile life for her daughter. A life Marion has fought hard to achieve for herself.
Lady Bird’s perspective dominates the plot, but her personality does not overpower the experience, which allows audiences to relate more closely.
Tracy Letts (The Post, August Osage County) plays Larry, the family’s patriarch in such an understated, yet effective way. This seemingly passive father provides an important role, especially between his daughter and wife. Jordan Rodrigues (TV’s The Fosters) plays Miguel while Marielle Scott plays his girlfriend Shelly.
Lady Bird is not a total rebel in overall society, but she certainly is in her school, at least outwardly. Lady Bird’s best friend and classmate Julie, well played by Beanie Feldstein, helps in this area. She a true friend who provides simple insight and support.
The students and faculty are portrayed at Immaculate Heart High School in a realistic and honorable way as people with their own interests and pain instead of small-minded, uninformed stereotypes. For example, I wanted to see more of Lois Smith (Minority Report, Twister) as Sister Sarah Joan who handles some objectionable behavior at an assembly with grace and practicality. Audience reactions to the hymn “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” definitely reflected the maturity level while the performance itself contributes a respectful, genuine authenticity to this educational environment where students can look beyond themselves.
Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences) as Father Leviatch represents another important element in the plot – audiences won’t always get full closure on characters and issues. This technique reflects life’s ongoing refinement and dynamics that enhances this film’s realism even more.
More characters reveal themselves as Lady Bird begins looking beyond herself. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) plays Danny O’Neill while rising star Timothée Chalamet (Hostiles, Call Me By Your Name) plays a local musician named Kyle. Odeya Rush (The Giver, The Odd Life of Timothy Green) plays Lady Bird’s classmate, Jenna, a popular girl in the school.
Lady Bird certainly learns from her mistakes and even asks forgiveness amid the pressures of college admission, prom, drugs, sex, work, and financial dependence…or independence. Other real-world issues like depression, alcoholism and adoption factor into the plot in very subtle, yet effective ways.
The chosen time period in the early 2000s yields a few signs of the times like cell phones and 9/11 reactions, but the film mainly focuses on Lady Bird’s perspective.
The Sacramento, California, location features outstanding second unit sequences that really enhance the film with the local environment. Within the film’s context, Sacramento seems like a place to grow old in as nostalgic elements combine with Lady Bird’s coming-of-age growth.
There is a nice rhythm in the editing by Nick Houy (The Night Of) that could reflect Lady Bird’s perspective. The open ending finish works so well because the audience gets to see who Lady Bird really is on her own. For example, when a woman asks Lady Bird where she’s from, Lady Bird quickly adapts based on the initial reaction from the woman, but does not change who she is. Lady Bird knows who she is.
Eclectic songs including modern day classics (DMB’s “Crash Into Me”, Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” etc.), the “Merrily We Roll Along” show tune, audio excerpts from the film, new songs like “Little of Your Love” (a.k.a. “Give Me Just a Little of Your Love”) by HAIM plus hymns like the beautiful “Rosa Mystica” by The University of Notre Dame Folk Choir evokes great emotion with layered a cappella (vocal) arrangements. It’s a stellar four-minute work that can stir the heart in great ways at a key point in the film. Jon Brion’s musical score also enhances the film on many levels.
A highly recommended film (4 stars) that was well thought, planned, and executed. It’s genuine without forced situations and overreaching stereotype, which makes it a pleasant and unpredictable experience. Amid the quirky humor and local references, Lady Bird uses a subtle balance that resonates with audiences at a high level. You see self-centeredness in one character and later genuine repentance (one of this film’s most heartfelt sequences). Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and teen partying.
Lady Bird has been nominated for several Academy Awards (a.k.a. Oscars) for picture (already a Golden Globe winner for best musical/comedy), original screenplay, director, actress (Ronan, who also won a Golden Globe) and supporting actress (Metcalf).