The 400-Word Review: Lady Bird
By Sean Collier
November 21, 2017
Coming-of-age tales are cinematic inevitabilities; good ones will appear every few weeks in arthouse cinemas, mediocre ones will appear every few months in multiplexes and prestigious ones will appear every year during the protracted movie awards season.
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story, sure. But unlike comparable tales, this lingering, careful film is not primarily concerned with growing up; rather, it’s a movie about the unsolvable difficulties of family, intergenerational cycles of shame and rebellion and the supreme challenge of self-acceptance.
Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who would prefer to be known as Lady Bird, is entering her senior year at a halfheartedly parochial high school. She’s just spent the summer touring colleges with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), alternating between moments of tender connection and spiteful arguments.
Back at school, she joins the drama department after a nun points out that she’s got something of a performative streak. All is well in theatrical adolescence — her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) and first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) are in the show, too — until a predictably teenage series of revelations leaves her spinning into confusion.
Such plot descriptions may evoke the right sort of atmosphere — questioning, confused, hopeful — but belie the incredible, subtle humor at the heart of Lady Bird. Yes, this is a story that is fundamentally about family conflict and disappointment, but it is also classically funny — funny in the way the great comedies of the 1980s and ’90s were funny. Funny due to behavior and quirk rather than gags and slapstick.
Such humor has been observable in previous works by writer/director Greta Gerwig; Frances Ha and Mistress America, both co-written by Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach, had similarly inspired moments. With Lady Bird, though, Gerwig moves behind the camera — Lady Bird is both Gerwig’s first solo directorial feature and the first time she has written a feature but not acted in it — and, in doing so, more completely takes control of the production. Gerwig is a fine actress and a skilled writer; we now know that she is also an undeniably powerful director.
And yet the film belongs to Ronan, the incomparable star who can no longer be ignored as one of the finest working performers in the world. Her Lady Bird is captivating in every moment, with tumultuous thought and untamed emotion written in her gaze. This performance, in this film, is unforgettable.
My Rating: 9/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark