(Photo via A24)
I broke down in tears driving home after seeing Lady Bird the other night. There are a select number of films that I’ve seen in my lifetime (or my time writing for this website) that have had this kind of impact on me not just as a film critic, but as a movie goer and as a human being. Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird is one of those films. It’s one of those films where I’m a little speechless in talking about the film. I don’t really know what else to say about the film other than Lady Bird is maybe the best directorial debut of any filmmaker that I’ve ever seen, and also that Lady Bird is the very best film of 2017, hands down, no ifs, ands or buts.
Saoirse Ronan plays the titular Lady Bird, real-name Christine McPherson (there’s no correlation between her nickname and Lady Bird Johnson, if anyone was wondering). She’s a high school senior living in 2002 Sacramento, California. She attends a private Catholic school and wishes to leave the California State Capitol in favor of the East Coast, preferably New York City, for her college career. But the financial situation that her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and her father (Tracy Letts) are in is not ideal, as Lady Bird’s father has been laid off in the beginning of the film. The idea that Lady Bird and her family aren’t as well off financially as the other high schoolers at her Catholic school bothers her and serves as a driving point into how the relationships between her friends and family are defined throughout the film. Lady Bird must also grapple with one more year of high school romance, jealousy, desire, betrayal, and so on.
The film has been described as semi-autobiographical, which Gerwig doesn’t entirely dispute, but the film feels like a deeply personal piece. And the most personal part of this film isn’t the stuff that occurs with Lady Bird in her school life or love life, but her family life, primarily the relationship she has with her mother. That relationship is the heart and soul of Lady Bird, and you feel the sadness and regret that both of them endure when the two characters are fighting with one another, and both feel like they’ve failed one another in that sense. That mother-daughter relationship really hit home for me, and allowed me to nearly break down emotionally after the film was over.
Laurie Metcalf deserves an Academy Award for her performance in this film as the mother, and Saoirse Ronan deserves just as much praise for hers. Metcalf’s performance is a far cry from her years on Rosanne, with her giving a realistic and beautiful performance as the working class mother in the film. She wants the best for her daughter, but has to tell her at times that the kind of schools she’s looking at are out of their price range and are just unrealistic. And Lady Bird is going through the type of teenage angst that we all went through at our age, which was that everything around us sucked, our hometown sucked, and the desire to leave forever and go somewhere where you can start new and forget your life. But once you finally get to that point in your life, but you’ll start to look back and remember the little things, kind of like what Tony Soprano stressed to his children in the Season One Finale of The Sopranos, and how those little things in life became to define who you are, and what you want to do.
Tracy Letts is not only a brilliant writer but he’s also a very under-appreciated character actor, and he gives one of his best roles to date as the soft-spoken father to Lady Bird. He serves as a mediator to both Lady Bird and the mother, and letting them both know that there is a deep bond and love for one another, even if they might not feel it at times. Lucas Hedges (the kid from Manchester by the Sea) plays Lady Bird’s friend Danny, a clean-cut kid who I won’t dive much into his character without revealing too much, and Timothée Chalamet as a bad boy arthouse kid that Lady Bird starts to fall for in the film. But one of the films standouts is Beanie Feldstein as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend. The relationship between the two feels so genuine, and like the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, when the two characters are fighting or not speaking to one another, there is a level of heartbreak on your behave as a viewer.
Lady Bird is a really special movie. It’s special in that Greta Gerwig has proven herself as one of the greatest voices behind the camera of this generation, and special in flawlessly portraying the relationship of a mother and her teenage daughter in one of the most stressful and taxing year of their lives. I can’t recommend the film enough to anyone reading this review, especially if you’re a mother and/or a daughter, and to anyone who was once a pissed off 17-year-old ready to get out of high school. Lady Bird is not just the very best film of 2017, but one of the very best of this decade.