Quirk sometimes plays better in a trailer than in an actual film. A bite-size nugget of peculiarity is more palatable than an exhaustive two-hours of it, and while the trailer for Lady Bird suggests a movie full of quirk, there’s that shot from the opening scene where the titular character jumps out of a moving car to end an argument with her mother, but what is truly great about Lady Bird the film is how every single moment is played for honesty over anything else.
Saoirse Ronan is the title character, an unenthused, disengaged, aggressively challenging student at a Catholic high school. She is in a state of near-constant battle with her domineering mother (national treasure Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird (her “given” name, as she explains, in that she gave it to herself) would be grating in lesser hands, but Ronan imbues her with such life, confusing and fucked up as it can be senior year of high school, that she’s such a joy to watch. Lady Bird’s family is struggling financially as her mom is quick to remind her at every possible moment, and Lady Bird yearns for the life behind the white picket fences of the big blue houses she passes by walking home from school with her BFF (a charming Beanie Feldstein). She falls into doomed romances with an enthusiastic theater geek (the excellent Lucas Hedges) and an insufferable musician (Timothee Chalamet), perfectly channeling his inner wannabe Holden Caulfield.
First time director Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the script based on her own upbringing in Sacramento, fills the film with moments of teen angst drama but never fails to ground everything in reality and a tremendous honesty that can sucker punch you at unexpected moments. The way each of her relationships with the boys play out is both expected and surprising, and the tragedy of each is earned. Metcalf is phenomenal here, playing such an aggressively cold Mom, yet still keeping her endearingly human and she aces the heavy moments as much as she does the small ones, a brief Christmas scene for one example. There’s no big resolution to the mother-daughter relationship, but it feels real enough that you can imagine how it would continue to play out.
Playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County among others) is sweetly sad as Lady Bird’s loving father. And Lois Smith as one of the nuns at Lady Bird’s school is also wonderful. Gerwig is deft both behind the camera, and in her script which ebbs and flows with the story without feeling like it’s checking all the coming-of-age boxes. One of my favorite films of the year.
My Grade – A