Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird might have 2017’s best prologue and epilogue in film. It sums up the deep love between mother and daughter.
Set in 2003 Sacramento, high school senior Christine (Saoirse Ronan) rebels against her catholic school and overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf). She goes by Lady Bird, secretly applies for New York colleges against her mom’s wishes, and often stirs up commotions in her catholic school. The film takes place over the course of a year and primarily focuses on Lady Bird’s ups and downs with her mother.
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age films, but I haven’t been blown away by one since 2013’s The Spectacular Now (another A24 film). Well, Lady Bird floored me. It’s poignant, funny, heartbreaking, complex, and near-perfect.
The film feels personal thanks to the realistic relationship of Lady Bird and her mom. Metcalf delivers a career-best performance as Lady Bird’s mom, who’s unpleasant and yet empathetic. The 23-year-old Ronan delivers a committed and convincing performance as the 17-year-old Lady Bird; she knows that her mom has a big heart, despite the unpleasantry. In one tense argument over laundry, Lady Bird understands her mom’s behavior when her mom mentions her own tragic upbringing. There are more powerful character-driven moments throughout the film.
Lady Bird also deals with other serious topics such as politics, religion, sex, and homosexuality. Some of the topics are handled with a sharp satirical edge (the abortion assembly scene had my theater laughing uncontrollably) while others are handled emotionally. There’s a subplot involving Lady Bird’s closeted boyfriend Danny (a terrific Lucas Hedges) who’s torn between his identity and family, which is devastating. Each character Lady Bird meets gives her a life experience and prepares her for the reality of growing up.
Back to the opening and closing scenes, they sum up the complexity of Lady Bird’s relationship with her mom. We see they deeply love each other, but also resent each other for various reasons.
I hate the term “crowd pleaser,” but given my audience’s reactions to Lady Bird, this is a crowd pleaser. It’s also a likely Best Picture contender in the upcoming Oscar season.