Release Date: November 3, 2017 (limited)
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan; Timothée Chalamet; Lucas Hedges; Beanie Feldstein; Laurie Metcalf; Tracy Letts; Odeya Rush
Movies don’t necessarily have to be big-budget extravaganzas in order to transport an audience to a different time and place. Sometimes, all it takes is a good story, good acting, well-written dialogue and universal themes to engage our imaginations. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is an excellent example of the kind of small, simple movie that draws the viewer in on the strength of its story and the attention to its craft.
Greta Gerwig has been around for years as an actress, appearing in mostly indie films like “Frances Ha,” “The House of the Devil,” and “Greenberg.” Occasionally, she was the better part of bigger budget fare like the remake of “Arthur.” But this talented woman emerges as an equal talent behind the camera with “Lady Bird,” her feature writing and directing debut. Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento teen on the precipice of adulthood, trying to traverse her final year in her Catholic high school, applying to colleges, and desperately attempting to navigate her unconventional family life (which includes an adopted brother, his live-in girlfriend, a sympathetic father who is a casualty of the 2002 economic recession, and an over-bearing, yet not unloving mother).
A lot of the success of “Lady Bird” hinges on Ronan’ performance. She hits all the right notes as a young woman bursting at the seems to get out of her stifling hometown and move on to bigger and better things, all the while trying to maintain a détente with her family. Lady Bird is all of us at one point, on the cusp of independence and eagerly anticipating what the world has to offer. Laurie Metcalf is perfection a Lady Bird’s mother: caring and attentive, but nonetheless terrified of losing her daughter to the world. Metcalf has some wonderful scenes in which Gerwig’s camera simply rests on Metcalf’s face as she moves through the emotional turmoil of a mother realizing that her daughter is breaking away.
However, in my opinion, the crowning achievement of “Lady Bird” is the screenplay. Gerwig may as well have transcribed bits and pieces of my own adolescence. She has seemingly miraculously captured the sound and dialogue of late-teenagers and uses it in a manner that never comes across as forced or manipulative, only naturally flowing from the circumstance. If this doesn’t get a nomination (or better yet, a win) for Best Original Screenplay, then I give up. This is one of the most authentic portrayals of teenage life ever realized on film.
In addition to Ronan and Metcalf’s beautiful performances, splendid support is given all around. Particular mention should be made for Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s fellow outcast best friend; Lucas Hedges (he is making quite a career for himself…keep going, man!) as Lady Bird’s first crush; and Timothée Chalamet, who between this movie and fellow Oscar-contender “Call Me By Your Name” is certainly the ‘IT’ actor of the moment. And for good reason…he’s good!
“Lady Bird” will resonate with any parent and/or child that has ever been confronted with the realities of growing up and leaving the nest. It’s scary, confusing, exciting, hopeful, daunting…and necessary. This is one of the best coming-of-age films I’ve seen and announces the emergence of a gifted storyteller.