One of the best films of the year and a spectacular solo for Greta Gerwig as writer/director.
Director: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne TV)
Runtime: 1 hr 33 min
by John DeSando
“I wish I could live through something.” Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan)
Nothing in the constantly funny and stunning coming-of-age film Lady Bird will surprise any audience. It’s all been played before: conflict with mom, loving dad, high-school romances, gawky and hip girl friends, gawky school play, agony about college admission, and nuns who restrain and nuns who nurture. She has indeed lived through “something” up to her waning adolescence, but as in the case of her hometown, Sacramento, she has to look back at it to see that she has lived there fully and uniquely. Right now, before graduation, the city is to her the "Midwest of California.”
The real difference from other growing-up stories is first-time solo writer/director Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan (who plays Christine “Lady Bird “McPherson). Together they craft a loveable, flawed heroine with such a sense of herself and her future that she is unafraid to taste life in its entirety, blessed or broken. Forget Julia Stiles in 10 things I Hate About You. Bird is better.
As in most films where a young girl is taught in a Catholic high school, the nuns are the looming moral force for restraint and also dream, embodied in the principal, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), a realist who knows Lady Bird is a creative and independent spirit. So, too, in a different way is Lady Bird’s mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), whose tough love is constant, but whose love is there if only Lady Bird would see it. Mom’s agony at the airport when Bird goes to college is as anguished a mom/daughter parting as you will ever see in a comedy.
Moments of humor are plentiful and low key, e.g., when Sister Sarah’s reality check with Lady Bird, “Math is not your strength,” is met with Bird’s “that we know of, yet.” While Mom’s realism is minute by minute, Sister Joan gives hers out slowly with equal portions of quiet love.
While Actress Ronan has already tasted life from an adolescent heroine, Hannah, to a young adult in Brooklyn, Lady Bird could be seen as a retro acting gig. Yet, Bird is so strongly mature yet naïve that this role defines Ronan’s wide-ranging ability. So, too, great Greta, a directorial/writing genius who should outstrip Woody Allen by the time he fully matures.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com