Review: LADY BIRD (2017) Saoirse Ronan soars in Greta Gerwig's debut as a writer-director


Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Dec. 6, 2017 at 2:10 p.m.

LADY BIRD (2017)

Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott, Jake McDorman, John Karna, Bayne Gibby, Laura Marano.

Directed by Greta Gerwig 

Not since “Pretty in Pink” has there been a film that defines the teen coming-of-age experience like Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.”  The actress-turned-filmmaker crafts this generation’s answer to the Molly Ringwald classic with the help of another fiery redhead, Saoirse Ronan, who plays the film’s protagonist Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson.  At the heart of the dramedy is the special bond between a mother (wonderfully played by Laurie Metcalf) and her daughter during those significant formative years.  The first-rate cast also includes Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), excellent actor-playwright Tracy Letts, and this year’s hottest newcomer Timothée Chalamet, in one of the Best Films of 2017. 

“Lady Bird” is not based on Greta Gerwig’s life, yet there are similarities between the filmmaker and Saoirse Ronan’s character.  Lady Bird attends Catholic high school, like Gerwig, and the film’s 2003 timeline is only a year off from Gerwig’s graduation date.  While those comparisons would lead you to believe that the film is partly biographical, Gerwig claims that Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is quite different from her years as a teenager.     

The film clearly establishes the love/hate relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) in an opening scene that features the two arguing in a car.  They have just returned from touring college campuses and Lady Bird is telling her mom that she hates California and wants to attend college on the East Coast where there’s culture.  Marion wonders how she has managed to raise a snob and suggests that Lady Bird go to community college because she could never get into any of those schools anyway.  The argument escalates after Marion points out that because of her daughter’s work ethic she will probably go to city college and then jail and then back to city college, causing Lady Bird to jump out of the moving vehicle.  It’s funny and the perfect introduction to the mother-daughter, who despite first impressions, have a very close bond.  

Senior year is tough for teenagers and while Gerwig’s film perfectly captures the stress related to that period in everyone’s life, this coming-of-age comedy is clearly all about Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother.   Ronan and Metcalf are the heart of this wonderful film, both delivering Oscar-worthy performances.  Remember how Molly Ringwald’s Andie had a close relationship with her father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton) in “Pretty in Pink”?  Those moments with the two of them sharing the screen encapsulated their close bond and while Lady Bird and her mother Marion have such a different type of relationship than Andie and her father, the scenes with Ronan and Metcalf clearly illustrate the authentic bond between a mother and daughter.  The scenes are written so well that it’s hard not to imagine Gerwig and her mother having these same conversations.  

Lady Bird’s romantic interests in the film are played by Manchester By the Sea's Lucas Hedges as a theater nerd named Danny and Timothée Chalamet as the cool laid-back musician heartthrob Kyle.  Hedges was surrounded by Oscar buzz last year after being nominated for his role in Manchester while I predict that Chalamet will follow suit this year for his performances in “Lady Bird” and “Call Me by Your Name.” 

Of course, Lady Bird has a best friend and she’s played by Beanie Feldstein who delivers a superb performance as Julie.  Like, two close-knit friends, they laugh and cry and get torn apart but realize they need each other after boys and the school’s popular girl (Odeya Rush) come between them.  Yes, it sounds stereotypical but Gerwig’s writing is fresh and invigorating.  These are great characters who never feel stale in scenarios that we have seen time and time again.  

During the 93-minute film, we watch Lady Bird navigate through her senior year filled with triumphs and heartbreaks during a time before cell phones, Facebook, and Snapchat.  We watch as she hides where she lives from the “in-crowd” and shops in the thrift stores with her mom, who is pulling double shifts at the hospital, while her unemployed father Larry (the awesome Tracy Letts) searches for a job in the workforce saturated with much younger wage-earners.  Her home life includes an adopted older brother named Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend who seem rivals just like every other brother and sister on the planet. 

“Lady Bird” is an impressive writing and directing debut by Gerwig who is used to being in front of the camera in wonderful indie films that include Frances Ha, Mistress America, and Maggie’s Plan.  She also played Jackie Kennedy’s personal secretary Nancy Tuckerman in 2016’s “Jackie” starring Natalie Portman.  The film, shot in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, features beautiful cinematography by director of photography Sam Levy who captures the beauty of the city while transporting the audience back to 2003.  The music of that era is prevalent in the film with artists Alanis Morissette and Dave Matthews featured on the soundtrack.  

Gerwig attended Catholic school and as a fellow Catholic student myself I can attest to the authenticity of the experience portrayed in the film.  I was not a punk rock rebel such as Lady Bird during my youth but I was a big music fan who always sported rock t-shirts.  There is a scene in the film where Lady Bird is snacking on pre-consecrated communion wafers.  I plead the fifth but trust me, it happens.  I should point out that Lois Smith and Stephen Henderson are a great addition to the supporting cast as Sister Sarah Joan and Father Leviatch. 

Saoirse Ronan who was wonderful in 2015’s “Brooklyn” soars as the title character in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” one of the best films of 2017 and this generation's “Pretty in Pink.”  By the way, red is not the natural hair color for either Ronan or Ringwald whose last names both begin with the letter “R” and well you get my point.  See it! 

(4 out of 4 stars)



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