Adolescence is never easy, especially in its later stages, when adulthood is peeking around the corner.
In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan convincingly capture a year in the life of a young woman poised on the brink of adulthood. Gerwig, who wrote the original screenplay and makes her solo directorial debut, appears to be looking back at her own youth. The film begins in the fall of 2002 and is set in Sacramento, California, which is where Gerwig was born; she attended an all-girls Catholic school and her mother was a nurse, just like the fictionalized lead characters.
What’s more fascinating than any autobiographical elements, however, is Gerwig’s ability to balance the emotional chemistry inherent in the premise. Lady Bird is empathetic toward its characters in fairly equal measure. They display admirable qualities and regrettable shortcomings; sometimes they say the right thing at the right moment; sometimes they unintentionally hurt others with their words or actions.
Saoirse Ronan was raised in Ireland and is now in her early 20s, but her performance as a 17-year-old American high school student is entirely convincing. The character’s given name is Christine, but she prefers to be known as Lady Bird, to the consternation of her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf).
Lady Bird has become increasingly certain of the increasingly assertive choices she is making in life. Those choices, both at home and in school, are quite familiar; she tackles academic challenges, romantic relationships, a longtime friendship, and ups and downs with her mother and her father.
Yet Gerwig’s writing consistently finds fresh angles, overturning conventions from a distinctive, singular perspective. Ronan breathes easily and comfortably as Lady Bird; it all makes sense to her, even if it doesn’t to others.
The other actors are also persuasive, a credit both to them and to Gerwig. Metcalf, who has given many subtle, memorable performances, is a stand-out marvel, inhabiting the role of a mother who is more loving and supportive than Lady Bird can see, with a seemingly endless reservoir of strength and perseverance.
As Lady Bird’s father, Tracy Letts portrays a loving man who wants to protect his daughter from his own (serious) problems. Good turns are also given by Beanie Feldstein as best friend Julie, Timothée Chalamet as a potential mate, Odeya Rush as an apparent stereotype who becomes a real person, and Lois Smith as headmaster at the Catholic school, who radiates warmth and authority.
Easily one of the best films of the year, Lady Bird deserves attention and rewards it with a complex, satisfying experience. Surviving adolescence has seldom seemed so appealing.
The film will open on Friday, November 17, at The Magnolia and Angelika Film Center Plano.