“I’m from the wrong side of the tracks.”
More often than not in serious relationships (as well as the inevitable mistakes along the way), most of us experience the moment. The memory that sticks with and shapes you. Those seconds where the outside world ceases to exist, so intoxicated by someone or something that we simply collapse our peripherals in on themselves to better focus on the love potion wafting its way through our olfactory depository. Lady Bird does this to our protagonist twice: once when a kind looking guy performs on stage and again when a “bad boy” performs with his “band.” Both experiences feel like diary clippings. With this masterful film – itself an ode to the greats before it and a precursor for those to come – I fell in love from the very first sequence, and was floored by it dexterous control over the tone, genre, performance, and its witty writing. Lady Bird is a jaw-dropping achievement that belongs towards the top of this year’s crop.
She was named Christine by her parents and deemed “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) by herself. Mom (Laurie Metcalf), a curt and confrontational woman, works double shifts at the hospital to support the makeshift family. Dad (Tracy Letts), prone to play Mr. Nice Guy, has recently been fired. Big Brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) both live at home and bag groceries for a living, the two of them donning facial piercings as so-called Vegans who still wear leather. Their excuse is that it’s old and not a product of the present. Lady Bird literally rolls her eyes at the false testimony for us. Lady Bird is not the moral compass of this story, but she is the shining star, so we follow along on her trek through Senior year at an all girls Catholic school in Sacramento. What she wants to do is get away. To apply to schools in NY, maybe even settling for CT or NH. Fingers crossed a scholarship can help fund her manic departure. That’s where she imagines culture dwells, and where this girl might even finally lift off the ground to fulfill her self-given name. The world outside her lowly nest calls to her.
Lady Bird has a best friend named Julie (Beanie Feldstein in a captivating side-kick role). Together they talk schoolgirl shop: discussing preferred masturbation methods with legs propped up against lockers while eating unchristened wafers, walking home while admiring the lines of mini-mansions, auditioning for the school play out of boredom and curiosity. They are two mismatched peas in a pod. And thankfully Lady Bird allows them to be different. To show how opposites attract and balance each other out. To honor and distill the often quiet code of true friendship into something that’s better experienced in the moment than bottled for the keeping. When these two recline their backrests and cry in unison to Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash,” the seconds almost feel infinite, not bound to our time, projecting a sad memory onto the screen for any and for all to observe for eternity. It’s one of countless magical scenes that fill a faultless film with a distinctly measured inequity. I can’t recall a better movie about the unrest and the unease of growing up since The Spectacular Now. And somehow Lady Bird is a comedy, too.
Things don’t go as planned with Danny (Lucas Hedges), the awkward theater guy who doesn’t cop a feel because he respects her boobs too much. Any prescient twenty-something should see his Puka shell necklace as a red flag. Onward and forward she transitions to Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), the rebel with no cause. He’s the slender young man who goes to parties only to read by himself, smoking his own rolled cigarettes, dwelling inside his own conspiracy filled head. Adults will hear him for one second and call immediate bullshit. He’s a self-serious joke. Even Dad questions if his daughter should answer to the kind of guy who honks for prom instead of knocking at the door. “I think I am,” she says woefully and to his dismay, walking out towards a mistake in the making. So many films like Lady Bird achieve this sense of pubescent wrongdoing while lacking motive or reason. This movie – one of the very best of its kind that I’ve ever seen – always has an answer to all of its many questions, which makes sense because it has powerwashed away the old Hollywood formula and painted itself with sincerity and its own true colors.
Inspired by the likes of Joan Didion – and even quoting her to start with the line, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento” – the clearly talented filmmaker Greta Gerwig has concocted a brilliant piece of life’s most integral landmarks. I abhor the phrase “coming of age,” a line that suggests stagnation at every turn, but I do acknowledge the power of our formative years, no less important to Lady Bird than they are to the audience. Gerwig’s movie is a love letter with two addresses: to her home city of Sacramento and to her moody Mom. When Ronan argues with Metcalf before joining their opinions at the hip, both seeing and acknowledging the same thrift shop dress, we see what it means to forgive and forget. When Lady Bird breaks the rule of the law, there are consequences that follow. When she and Julie make amends, it’s over a meat tray and the possibility of a Prom spent with an old friend instead of a fling gone kaput. Lady Bird will be a major player come awards season, and I think that’s because it’s one of the most enjoyable high school stories ever made. Period.
Lady Bird is the type of film where bad things can happen – and because of the age group often feel like life-or-death disasters – without condemning any of the characters. Nobody in this film is an outright bad person. Instead, they are flawed, crimped and torn pages in a shared story. Ronan and Metcalf live up to this imperfect ideal as two dazzling actresses who deliver two perfectly nuanced performances. The same goes for Greta Gerwig who wrote this journal entry with great specificity, and she directs it through an experienced, observed lens. Her work signals the calling of a true artist. Lady Bird is a comedy that’s actually hilarious, a drama that actually understands human interaction, and one of the most stunning directorial debuts of all time. This is a movie about movement – both internally and literally – crossing the bridges of Sacramento and the corners only locals will recognize, and how the experience becomes our own when we are in the driver’s seat. However, at its most sublime, Gerwig captures the beauty of love for a place and its people in a single shot. Lady Bird and Julie stand outside their Prom chatting, wrapped in each other’s arms, the background painted by the magic hour of California and the Tower Bridge signaling changes to come. It’s similar to Woody Allen’s famous bench shot observing the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan. Yet Gerwig’s frame is full of life, color, and the promise of tomorrow. I looked hard, but I swear, not a false note will be found in the new timeless classic which goes by the unforgettable name Lady Bird. It very well might be my favorite film of the year.
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
Rating: 5 out of 5