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Learning to fly – ‘Lady Bird’

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We’re going to go ahead and dispense with the formalities on this one. No need to bury the lede – “Lady Bird” is an absolutely exceptional film, one of the funniest, most honest, most genuine coming of age stories we’ve seen on the big screen in years.

Writer/director Greta Gerwig announces her presence with authority on this one, crafting a remarkable semi-autobiographical portrait of growing up that precisely captures a moment in time. It is about family and love and heartbreak and home, all refracted through the prism of one teenaged girl.

In short, “Lady Bird” soars.

The year is 2002. Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, “Loving Vincent”) – who has renamed herself Lady Bird – is entering her senior year at a private Catholic high school in Sacramento. She lives with her intense, overbearing mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf, TV’s “Getting On”) and her doting nice-guy father Larry (Tracy Letts, “The Lovers”); her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues, TV’s “The Fosters”) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott, “Yield Right”) live there too.

Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”) spend their days marking time and wondering what’s going to happen next; Lady Bird harbors a secret desire to go to college on the East Coast so that she might put some distance between herself and her mother’s steady stream of passive-aggressive digs. But money’s tight, so she has to stay silent.

Along the way, there are a few boys – drama club lead and nice guy Danny (Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”); faux-deep edgy cool kid Kyle (Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”) – that catch Lady Bird’s eye. New friends like bored rich girl Jenna (Odeya Rush, “The Bachelors”) start pulling her down a different path – one that sees her struggling in her relationships with her family, her teachers and her other friends.

Lady Bird makes her way through that last year of high school as best she can. She’s struggling with the choices that she’s making – as all young people do. She’s not sure who she wants to be, which leaves her unsure of what to do. There’s the ebb and flow of the battles with her mother, who struggles to express her love in any supportive fashion. Her efforts at romance prove uneven as she looks for someone with whom to truly share herself.

And looming in the distance, college. That chance to push the reset button and become something – someone – altogether new.

I love a good coming of age story. I love it when a tale of growing up is rendered with honesty and wit and heart. And Greta Gerwig has delivered a film that is all of that and manages to be incredibly funny at the same time. There’s no gratuitous heartstring-tugging here; just earned emotional engagement and intricate relationships and some awkward hilarity.

I left “Lady Bird” wanting to tell people to see it. And not just in a general sense. In a “Who do I know in their early- to mid-30s?” way. Seriously – anyone who was in high school 15 years ago needs to see this movie. It’s not even a question. Just go.

(The rest of you should go as well, of course. But those people REALLY need to go.)

“Lady Bird” marks Gerwig’s solo debut as a writer/director; her only previous foray was co-writing and co-directing (and co-starring in) the 2008 mumblecore outing “Nights and Weekends” alongside Joe Swanberg. But this movie in no way resembles the work of the inexperienced. Rather, there’s a stark sophistication to it, both narratively and visually. Gerwig has lovingly recreated this particular time and place – you’ll never believe how emotionally attached you’ll become to the world of Sacramento circa 2002.

We already knew she could write – she penned a pair of acclaimed Noah Baumbach offerings (2012’s “Frances Ha” and 2015’s “Mistress America”), among other projects – but “Lady Bird” takes her narrative prowess to yet another level. Whatever it is – artistic maturation, perhaps, or a deeper, more autobiographical connection – it’s remarkable. Her stories are compelling and truthful, populated by beautifully flawed characters.

Leading the way is Ronan as Lady Bird. Just an unbelievable performance. There’s an enchanting vulnerability to her portrayal, one that captures that emotional hyper-amplification of the mundane that is basically unique to the halls of high schools. She’s sweet, but with a jagged edge that is both unsettling and mesmerizing. Lady Bird leaps before looking, trying to fly before she can walk. It’s a performance you’ll be hearing more about.

And not just hers. Laurie Metcalf is as good as she has ever been as Lady Bird’s mother. She is sharp and guarded, allowing only flashes of what’s below the surface. But still waters run deep – there’s an unseen emotional depth that the viewer nevertheless feels every moment that Metcalf is on screen. She deserves every bit of acclaim that this role is almost certainly going to bring her.

The rest of the ensemble also proves exceptional. Letts brings a quiet charisma to his scenes; he’s low-key, but impossible not to watch. Hedges and Cahalamet are considered among the most talented young actors currently working; you can see why in their work here. Feldstein, Rush, Rodrigues, Scott – all of the people in Lady Bird’s orbit get their respective moments in the sun … and every single one of them takes full advantage. Oh, and there are outstanding turns from Lois Smith and Stephen Henderson as Lady Bird’s teachers as well.

It can’t be stressed enough – literally EVERYBODY is great in this movie.

“Lady Bird” is small and singular, a story about a teenager that finds beauty in the banal. It is a masterpiece of memory, one filmmaker’s wildly successful effort to invoke the complex simplicity of her own adolescence while telling a universal tale. Frankly, it might be even better than I’m making it seem.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 01 December 2017 11:43

1 comment

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