“Lady Bird” Movie Review

     With forty acting credits to her name, Greta Gerwig makes the jump to directing in her first solo feature, “Lady Bird”, utilizing her own experiences as a teen growing up in Sacramento, California and an upbringing that included attending an all-girls Catholic school to create one of the most memorable characters of the year.  Some of the better films today are the result of a very personal story being told by the filmmaker, and Gerwig’s script provides the foundation that gives the audience  a unique perspective on teenage childhood and the difficulties faced by both children and parents as they navigate that portion of their lives.  The story takes place in 2003, a time where one of the characters talks about how someday everyone will have a flip phone.  So obviously these events occur at a time before the minefield of social media grabbed each and every one of us by the throat and ha yet to let go, but that doesn't mean teens growing up in this era had less to deal with or worry about.  

     In “Lady Bird”, we meet Christine McPherson, a high school senior with the dream of leaving her native Sacramento and attending college somewhere on the east coast.  The character is played to Oscar worthy perfection by Saoirse Ronan, who delivers yet another wonderful performance after her Oscar nominated breakout role in 2015’s “Brooklyn”, where she also plays a girl at about the same age with lofty dreams of her own.  Ronan absolutely nails her character’s coming of age once again.  And does so in a way that shows unbelievable dramatic range, which is aided by Gerwig’s fascinating, yet all to common storyline involving a teen and her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother.  

     For those of us who grew up in similar circumstances and then went on to have a child of our own, all of this will hit home in a way that is certain to lend an emotional connection to all of the characters involved.  Christine, who fashions herself as Lady Bird when asked by others for her name, lives within a Sacramento middle class community that isn't deprived of anything that would indicate they are poor or without the necessities, but the Catholic school she attends on scholarship has her in the presence of the kids who come from the area’s wealthiest families and thus the inevitable self induced mind games begin where we suddenly really want what other kids have.  Christine’s parents are still married, so in my book she already has a leg up on the family front, but as is so often the case with kids, nothing is ever good enough and they continually fail to realize how good they actually have it.  This is apparent with the way she treats her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a woman responsible for supporting her family working double shifts at a psychiatric hospital after her husband, Larry (Tracy Letts), is laid off by a local tech firm.  Instead of asking what she can do to help around the house, Christine berates her mother for things like not allowing the purchase of a magazine she wants at the grocery store.  She is generally unpleasant to be around and complains incessantly, even in times where it’s obvious the best option would be to say nothing at all. 

     Christine is embarrassed of where she lives, dreaming, as she walks to school through the rich neighborhoods on the way, of having a home she can be envied for.  A place as she says where she can invite friends over and eat snacks.  One of her most obvious personality traits is the inability to take any kind of criticism, be it from her parents, school counselor, teacher, or even her best friend.  In other words, she doesn't like honesty and will rebel at the first sight of it.  She doesn't want to hear from anyone how her future will likely be at the local city college.  Nor does she want to believe that she has no shot of getting into one of the high end east coast colleges she covets.  In her world, everything is centered on herself and she doesn't care who she hurts in order to get where she thinks she should be.  Now all of this is common for her age, but Ronan and Gerwig have created a character whose complexities rival that of an actual person, giving her a surprising amount of detail and realism.  An astonishing feat considering the film runs a scant 93 minutes and still manages to fully flesh out each of its main characters with the precision of an entire television season.

     And with this being a coming of age drama, the trials Christine faces during her senior year bring an abundance of life and feeling to the character.  Her participation in a school play seems out of her wheelhouse, but she’s determined to stuff her college resume and will do anything to someday open an acceptance letter from a school of her choice.  Adventures in tinkering with the male species are also intriguing, as is an attempted foray into the world of the wealthy through a popular girl in school.  But much of the heart and soul in the film comes from Christine’s best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who deals with a number of issues as well, including her parent’s divorce and the hope her mom may someday marry someone who will take care of them.  

     Clearly, the most heartbreaking relationship in the film is that of Christine and her mom, Marion, which is at times is one of hopeless repair.  Marion holds Christine accountable for her actions.  Something Christine doesn't like.  She also remains consistently honest about the family’s financial situation and points out discrepancies in the manner Christine treats her things, knowing how hard it would be to replace them.  Marion also doesn't support Christine’s attempts at getting into an out of state college, leading to endless bickering between the two and frequent interventions from Larry, who brings a much needed calming influence to the table.  There’s no question Christine believes everything she says and does is the correct way to handle any given situation, but the beauty of “Lady Bird” is watching as she begins to realize what all of us eventually did as well.  Our parents were right.  And without them being there for us, giving us the things we needed, and ensuring we were being put in the best possible position to succeed, there is no way we would be where we are today.  I don't think I can recall a film that conveys that point as wonderfully and unpretentiously as “Lady Bird” does.  The characters feel as though they are real, and that’s probably because in Gerwig’s life, they once were.  GRADE: A