For a movie to elicit emotion is not easy. Think about it. Movies can pull you in and keep your interest, but how often do they really make you laugh, gasp, smile, or cry?
The best inspire one or some of those responses. “Lady Bird” captures them all, nestled under her strikingly soft yet surprisingly powerful wings.
“Lady Bird” is a rare sighting. It’s “The Graduate” joins “The Breakfast Club” at the dawn of the new millennium—only those films’ leads’ respective uncertainties and role rebellions give way to the class of 2002’s entitled independence and brighter ambitions, all amid the 21st-century tumult of terror and technology.
In a person, that’s Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), the pink-haired, non-Catholic Catholic school girl who wants to fly far away from her Sacramento coop to an east-coast college on her parents’ lower middle income.
Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf)—in whom Metcalf basically plays a raspier Roseanne to her former free-spirited Jackie—wants none of it. Not because she doesn’t love Lady Bird; she just doesn’t understand her. (Neither do the marketers spending millions studying the many Lady Bird-like millennials.)
Of course, the relationship between terrorizing teen and preemptive-strike parent is nothing new. But writer-director Greta Gerwig gives it grit, with a camera quality that makes “Lady Bird” look more like a documentary than a feature film. Gerwig reportedly even encouraged the 23-year-old Ronan not to cover up her acne; noticeable, but not in any way detracting from the blue-eyed beauty. Such small blemishes, however, make “Lady Bird” feel all the more real.
As does the writing—and editing. At a brisk 94 minutes, “Lady Bird” never drags. And although it jumps around—a lot—it’s never disjointed, just wholly representative of a transient teen’s many priorities, from the birds and the bees to the SATs and the effects both have on her future.
Ronan’s emotional adeptness at fulfilling her character’s angst, frustration, hope, and ultimate discovery is immensely impressive and gratifying. As is Metcalf’s. That Metcalf will likely be passed over for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars in favor of Allison Janney is a shame. Though Janney’s “I, Tonya” performance is good (enough), Metcalf nails the Triple Salchow of exuding unbelievably great guilt, confusion, and love.
Their colleagues are just as committedly authentic: Lady Bird’s precariously employed father (Tracy Letts), her confused and callous love interests (Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet), her Berkeley brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend (Marielle Scott), the frail Father Leviatch (Stephen Henderson), the ornery Sister Sarah (Lois Smith), and the jubilant joy that is Julie (Beanie Feldstein).
“Lady Bird” is an ensemble of excellence. It’s a generational film about leaving the nest, an act all the more frightening when there is no nest egg. But, even amid the film’s persistent pains, Gerwig gives it a sense of comfort—that everything is going to be all right. That, no matter where we are, we can always call home.
It is, as they say, where the heart is. And though it has a heavy one, “Lady Bird” positively soars.
5 out of 5