Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Lois Smith, Timothée Chalamet
Within the first few minutes of Lady Bird, you will understand that you are in the presence of something special. The opening scene features a mother and daughter driving back from a college visit. It starts out with warmth and affection and then suddenly takes a turn that is dramatic and savage. It's a masterful deep dive into the heads of the characters – Lady Bird, a disgruntled high school senior and her mother Marion, a nurse whose downturned mouth reflects a lifetime of pain and regret.
What kind of a parent gives their child the name Lady Bird? Actually her name is Christine but Lady Bird is the name she's given herself in an attempt at reinvention. The film is set in Sacramento in 2002. Christine attends a Catholic school that she hates. She's handling boyfriends, sex, parental conflict, college applications and her own ambitions as an artist. At one point, she says, I wish I could live through something.
Lady Bird is the directing debut of actor-writer Greta Gerwig who earlier co-directed Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanberg. Gerwig's genius is that she locates the angst of adolescence without romanticizing it. There are moments of such deep discomfort here – especially between Christine and her mother – that you want to look away. Or somehow stop them from hurting each other more. But the harshness is leavened by generous humour. In one scene, Christine is giving a driving test. When the examiner tells her that she's passed, she says, "Really? Thanks!" And he replies in a dry voice – It's not a thanking situation. You either pass or you don't.
The brilliant writing is bolstered by superlative performances – led by the Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan as Christine. She is at once, damaged, defiant and so strikingly beautiful that she breaks your heart
The brilliant writing is bolstered by superlative performances – led by the Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan as Christine. She is at once, damaged, defiant and so strikingly beautiful that she breaks your heart. Laurie Metcalf's Marion is equally piercing. Marion can be so horrifically cruel that in places she seems surprised by her own capacity to inflict pain. And yet her love for Christine is deep and vast. The icing on the cake is Lois Smith as the school principal Sister Sarah Joan and this year's sensation, Timothée Chalamet as the cool kid Christine falls for.
Lady Bird combines wisdom and tenderness, humor and grace. It's light-footed without being lightweight. And it captures, with great feeling, the turbulence of a girl growing up. I can't recommend it enough.