There is a magical moment that happens after high school. There’s a little voice. It’s a little voice inside your head that pleads, “What are you doing here?” It’s a hunch that grows at such a rapacious pace that it thrusts and pushes to claw its way out of your heart for a near catharsis. Greta Gerwig‘s directorial debut, Lady Bird, is the millisecond of possibility, the speck of unflinching nerve, which might only occur once in our lives.
For this film, we are literally dropped in media res. The first shot is of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), finishing up an audio tape of the Grapes of Wrath in their car. As they eject the tape and shed their tears, Lady Bird motions to turn on the radio. Marion stops her so they can have more quality time; they instantly get into a fight. Often, the most important part of any film is the first 5-minutes. The talent of Gerwig is how much she jams into those 5 minutes. From the first few minutes we know that mother and daughter have an issue of direct communication. We’re also given establishing shots of Sacramento, which tells us that the city will play a pivotal role. Mostly, we’re shown Lady Bird’s amazing temper.
Lady Bird and her family are from the “other side” of the tracks. She is also nearing her graduation from high school. In a mad rush during her final year, she tries to enroll in just about every extra-curricular school event possible to impress the east-coast universities she’s applying to. Along the way, she gets into fights with her mother, falls in love a couple of times, and discovers who she wants to be.
The acting throughout the film is utterly amazing. Ronan continues as the most underrated actress in Hollywood, as she plays a chameleon-like charlatan. Lady Bird is willing to lie to get whatever she wants. She fibs about where she lives to the most popular girl in school, Jenna Walton (Odyea Rush), she fudges her sex life to her mom, and changes everything about herself to impress a boy. Basically, she’s a normal teenager. And yes, all teenagers are chameleon-like charlatans.
Beanie Feldstein, who plays Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, is never out of the moment. As she often plays the second banana to Ronan’s straight. She’s really the person who gives Lady Bird her humanity, the friend who sticks with you, does every activity (including joining drama), and forgives you even when both of you know that you’re being a chameleon-like charlatan.
One of the key points is when Lady Bird meets Danny (Lucas Hedges) in drama club. Hedges had his breakout role in Manchester by the Sea. For a young actor, a breakout role is big, but the follow-up is even bigger. Hedges doesn’t disappoint here. He is so good at protecting his performance. Whenever he plays an emotional scene, he rarely peaks too early. His crying scene with Lady Bird is even better than the emotionally draining counterpart from Manchester by the Sea.
The film is also filled with great intellectual jokes, like Lady Bird and Julie eating the wafers used in communion as if they’re cookies or Lady Bird’s later boyfriend reading A People’s History of the United States (If you don’t see the hilarity of a High Schooler being that far to anarchism, then you probably weren’t in High School), but mostly, it’s filled with teenage fear. The fear that life won’t give as much you take, or that our surroundings will stunt what we could be. Mostly, it’s filled with the unknown character, Sacramento. Gerwig uses so much time on scenery shots of the city. Many of them extended montages of Marion driving around Sacramento. I had feared that Gerwig was spending too much time on these shots. The film only clocks in at about an hour and a half, but the pay off at the end is well worth these montages.
For a fairly compact film, Lady Bird is patient. It takes its time in these people’s lives, following them over the course of a year. However, it really demonstrates what it means to be a teenager. As Lady Bird contorts her way into different friendships, she omits the parts of her life that she’d rather forget. The parts she’s ashamed of, like living on the wrong side of the tracks. At times, she also omits her mother. A woman she can’t get along with, unless they are talking about the Grapes of Wrath, fashion, or sex. But the film also shows, what it means to embrace who we are, our backgrounds, and where we come from.
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Photo Credit: IMDb