By Dawn Smith, Contributor
“It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” observes Sister Sarah, a nun at Lady Bird’s Catholic high school.
Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is visibly surprised, as is the viewer. Until this point, Lady Bird has been very clear that she views Sacramento as “the Midwest of California.”
“I guess I pay attention,” Lady Bird says.
“Don’t you think they’re the same thing?” Sister Sarah asks.
‘Lady Bird,’ Greta Gerwig’s graceful directorial debut, opens and closes with the relationship between Christine McPherson, who has chosen to be called Lady Bird, and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who struggles to call her anything but Christine. It explores the idea suggested by Sister Sarah, that when you love something you pay attention to it. Lady Bird, going through the growing pains of her senior year of high school, struggles with her mother’s constant nagging and critique, and isn’t sure her mother likes her. Marion, working two shifts to make ends meet, views Lady Bird asserting her individuality as being ungrateful. She wants her daughter to grow into the best version of herself, but rarely demonstrates the warmth and affection necessary to aid a young woman’s development. Warmth comes from Lady Bird’s unemployed father, Larry (Tracy Letts), who offers comfort and a listening ear when needed, but often leaves the hard work of parenting to Marion. Gerwig doesn’t shy away from hurtful family interactions, but in handling her characters with care and kindness, we grow to love each of them – failings and all.
Lady Bird goes through the usual high school challenges – rejecting the best friend to hang with the cool kids, exploring sex, the inevitable disappointing prom date. As familiar as these rites of passage may be, the film feels fresh and unique. This is largely due to a glorious script and adept directing. Gerwig’s intuitive, observational writing, with natural and humorous dialogue, leads to wonderful performances by Ronan, Metcalf, and Beanie Feldstein, who plays Lady Bird’s best friend. Lucas Hedges also shines in his role as the theater geek Lady Bird falls for. The offbeat humor, surprising moments of physical comedy, and organic pacing of Lady Bird’s journey of self-discovery make for a delightful hour and a half.
Dawn Smith is a writer and producer residing in Boston, MA. You can learn more about her work at www.pushbackfilms.com.