I know that as a critic, and a fan of independent film, I'm supposed to worship at the throne of Greta Gerwig – particularly the jewel that (apparently) is “Frances Ha.” The truth of the matter, however, is that aside from her supporting role in last year's “20th Century Women,” I haven't really been a fan.
But this time out she seems to have found her creative voice as both a writer and director with “Lady Bird.”
Saoirse Ronan as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in “Lady Bird.” (Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24)
Lady Bird (a.k.a. Christine, played by Saoirse Ronan) is a pretty typical high school senior. She's trying to find her place in school (and the world); she’s got a close, but small group of friends that she’s hoping to expand; she’s looking for love (or whatever the high school equivalent is ; and she’s looking to the future … which includes getting as far away from Sacramento for college as possible.
There are some hurdles in her way, however.
First and foremost, her loving, but overbearing mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Assuredly the head of the household, Marion is determined to not only keep her family afloat in tough times, but to make sure that Lady Bird attends an expensive, but “safer” high school and is able to get accepted to a college close to home.
When a headstrong teenager and a headstrong mother collide (repeatedly), fireworks are sure to follow.
Rounding out the cast and story is love interest Danny (Lucas Hedges), other love interest Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), completely adrift older brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), and devoted, understanding father, Larry (Tracy Letts).
Lucas Hedges as Danny and Saoirse Ronan as Christine/Lady Bird in “Lady Bird.” (Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24)
The cast of “Lady Bird,” particularly its two lead actresses, is off the charts good, which is good because the story demands such performances. Because while Lady Bird is in the title, this story is almost as much about Marion’s journey as it is Christine’s. You have a strong woman helping raise another strong woman and the perception that one is more timid than the other would have made for an awkward dynamic. Instead, you have two very strong performances from two outstanding women who will – with any justice – will be nominated for Oscars in a couple of months.
But as much I enjoyed Ronan and Metcalf, the biggest revelation for me is the work of writer/director Greta Gerwig.
She tackled the script, which contains some meaty subjects, with a very polished finesse. If done incorrectly, the story could have come off as overly dramatic and heavy-handed. Instead, it’s tackled in a serious manner, but with enough levity and tenderness to give it a realistic feel.
Life is full of these ups and downs and ridiculous moments that you can either laugh or cry about, and so is “Lady Bird.”
★★★★1/2 of ★★★★★