Depending upon age, it’s possible that your initial response to the title Lady Bird might be that’s it’s political in nature, a biographical account of the wife to the nation’s 36th President. But Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut has nothing to do with either politics or the former First Lady. It’s the name of Gerwig’s central character, a teenager soon to move on from high-school to college. During a later scene, when asked by a teacher if Lady Bird is her given name, she responds, “Yes,” then adds, “I gave it to myself.”
In a sense, the film is biographical. Like its title character, Gerwig is a native of Sacramento, her mother was a nurse, her father was a computer programmer, and she attended an all-girls Catholic school. Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (superb Irish actor with a pitch-perfect American accent, Saoirse Ronan), is looking for her place in life, while making sure it doesn’t resemble that of her mother’s.
“Do you think I look like someone from Sacramento?” Lady Bird asks as she checks herself in the bedroom mirror. “You are from Sacramento,” responds her matter-of-fact mother, Marion (an outstanding Laurie Metcalf in the role to remember).
There’s a bond between mother and daughter that is wildly troubled. Mom is a hard worker, strongly opinionated and determined to shape her daughter in a way that will make Lady Bird prepared for the life to come, even if it’s not necessarily a life the teenager wants. “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be,” her mom tells her. “What if this is the best version?” the young girl replies. As temporary boyfriend, Danny (Lucas Hedges) tells Lady Bird when referring to Marion, “She’s crazy, and I’m scared of her.”
On a road trip when exploring future college possibilities, mother and daughter share time listening and crying to a cassette audio recording of a John Steinbeck novel. Once the tapes are done and the listening is over, the conversation starts, and it immediately becomes acrimonious. “All you think of is yourself,” mom declares, a statement that every son or daughter has probably heard, and one that means nothing to the offspring. Of course they only think of themselves. At this point, any normal child has never had to consider anything else, but parent’s say it, all the same. For Lady Bird, the only recourse to end the conversation, and to demonstrate her rebellious nature to mom’s non-stop insistence, is to open the car door while still in motion and intentionally fall out, resulting with a broken arm and a pink cast.
Her father (Tracy Letts) is different. Larry is an unemployed computer programmer whose recent dismissal from the workforce has resulted in even tougher financial times for the family. Worse, it further limits Lady Bird’s chances of escaping Sacramento. He’s depressed, but hides it behind a benign smile aided by the prescription pills he’s taken for years. Unlike the Steinbeck tapes, when driving in the car with dad, Lady Bird and Larry are listening to a track from Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill CD. “Do you know, Alanis Morissette wrote this song in only ten minutes?” Lady Bird asks, though less as a question, more as a fact. “I believe it,” dad dryly responds.
Written by it’s director, Lady Bird is a sharply observed, thorough delight. Both funny and touching, there’s not a wrong step along the way. Relatable on all levels, whether it’s from the point of view of the parents or the teenagers, there’s a warmth throughout that comes from a place of honesty and great humor. You might expect scenes of shouting and histrionics where the drama of conflict is overdone, but Lady Bird never goes there. Instead, there’s the clumsiness of adolescence, the truth behind parental fears and affections, and the feel of a generous spirit at work behind the camera. All that’s missing on screen is Gerwig herself, but in many respects, she’s there, in the quirks of Ronan’s performance. Lady Bird is a film to love.
MPAA Rating: (Not Rated) Length: 93 Minutes Overall rating: 9 (out of 10)