Review: "Lady Bird" (2017)
Title: Lady Bird
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein
In a Nutshell: Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, Lady Bird follows the senior year of artistic outsider Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). Desperate to get into an east coast college, Lady Bird makes a last-ditch effort to make herself an appealing candidate by trying out for the school musical. From this point, the film follows Lady Bird as she makes (and loses) new friends, experiences love and heartbreak, and grapples with wanting to be her own person while also wanting to make her family, and her mother in particular, proud of her.
The Critique: Lady Bird is a film in which nothing "big" really happens. And that isn't at all a criticism of it. Most of the moments lovingly documented in the film are quiet and small – a passive-aggressive conversation between a mother and daughter thrift shopping; an argument over the sink as one washes dishes; a flirtatious encounter at a coffee shop; a prank pulled in a high school parking lot. Even the moments that should feel "big" [SPOILERS] - Lady Bird losing her virginity; the revelation that her father has lost his job; her acceptance into an east coast college after initially being waitlisted – feel exceedingly intimate and human and textured and honest. Unlike other indie, slice-of-life films that document something traumatic, tragic, or otherwise spectacular, Lady Bird is fine with reveling in the mundane, the inane (see: virtually everything said by Timothée Chalamet), and the unexplained. The film never talks down to the audience or forces empathy with one character over another.
Ultimately, Lady Bird is a mostly likeable but unremarkable person, trying to squeeze more out of life, and sometimes in the process hurting the people around her. Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), is passive-aggressive and emotionally closed off at times, but incredibly caring, and willing to make enormous sacrifices for her children. Every character seems to have an internal life, and rather than uncovering those lives in big speeches and dramatic reveals, Gerwig allows her actors to gesture, to hint, and to just exist on screen without always needing to do something. This makes Lady Bird a refreshing watch, and a film that demands multiple viewings. Since I saw it with my partner, we've had many conversations about the characters, speculating as if these were our friends or family. The intimacy Gerwig creates between the audience and characters is really lovely, and a reminder of the thaumaturgic possibilities of film at its best.
Shout-Out(s): I've seen a lot of positive reviews focusing on the acting in Lady Bird, particularly focusing on Ronan and Metcalf, who fairly deserve any and all accolades. That being said, I think Tracy Letts as Lady Bird's father Larry is my favorite character. He is funny and sweet, and one of the rarest Hollywood characters – someone suffering from depression who is fully functional and even extroverted and cheerful around others. As someone concerned with how mental illness is portrayed in film, characters like Larry and Father Leviatch (Stephen Henderson) give me hope that a more nuanced understanding of people suffering from depression is actually possible.
To Go, Rent, or to Netflix: It is likely that Lady Bird will be in select theaters for at least a few more weeks, given all of the Oscar buzz it has generated – go see it on the big screen while you still can!