Lady Bird movie cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges
Lady Bird movie director: Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird movie rating: 4 stars
Can you love the woman who asks you not to use an extra towel as she needs to plan her laundry? Can you love the city that you see as stifling your ambitions? Can you love the first love who broke your heart? Can you love the friend who reminds you of what you might always end up being?
Yes, and yes.
In one of the warmest affirmations of love, family and friendships on screen, writer-director Greta Gerwig tells the story of a 17-year-old’s one year from high school to college, as she rediscovers who and what she is. Through love gained, lost sight of, regained. It’s not a tale of wild rebellion, or of bitter rage, nor a story of triumphs or failures. It’s you and me growing up in uneventful times, at an age where every episode is an event.
It could be more specifically a story of Gerwig, growing up in these parts (Sacramento, California), around this time (2002-03). Gerwig has taken exception to the attention she has paid to bringing forth the character of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Ronan) in the film being dismissed as she telling a story about “just your life”.
And she should be. For Lady Bird, as the name Christine gives herself suggests, is every girl and not every other girl — like the ladybird beetle, neither a bug nor a bird. This girl is trying to fit in, in a world of struggling parents, richer classmates, brighter friends, prettier competition, pretentious well-off brats sitting next to private swimming pools and declaring they “don’t like being rich”, and boys who wait for her to make the first move — in her own ways. Of course, you have heard and seen this story before. But it’s never been quite with such a loving eye.
Ronan, a young actor with that fierce intensity, is a work of art in the film, a girl who knows both her strengths and her limitations. She has an Oscar nomination among the film’s five. Equally deserved is the nomination for Metcalf, as Lady Bird’s stern mother Marion. She works double shifts at the psych hospital she works in as a doctor to keep the family going, and she doesn’t let anyone forget that. One can see Marion be strict despite herself, a habit born of years of being so when it was needed, and difficult to break out of now. Mothers can be exceptionally cruel to daughters, and vice-versa, seeing each other as a mirror image, and here we see that play out in comic-tragic detail. Letts playing Lady Bird’s sympathetic father takes a gracious backseat, and stands out for that.
The only weak point in the film is its lazy assumptions about teenagers, who fall into convenient, non-grey categories that fit Lady Bird’s growing up story. So poorer kids are smart, richer ones vacuous, and the middle ones somewhere in between.
In that, and that alone, Gerwig stumbles on that very keen observation in the film, about really seeing. Lady Bird’s principal at the Catholic private school she goes to notes how much the 17-year-old seems to love Sacramento, evident in how she writes about the city. Lady Bird replies that maybe she is just paying attention.
“Is there a difference?” asks the principal.
Lady Bird is a product of paying attention.