Directed by Greta Gerwig
Perhaps one of the most moving films about adolescent individuation…and the obstacles in the path of that goal…ever made, Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is without peer. I mean it. Whether discussing its honest script, it’s honest and multi-dimensional performances, its humor or it’s pacing, this is a film for the ages. Personally, I don’t remember seeing a film about the final steps leading from teen to young adult this good and this evocative of real memory. Maybe, and in an entirely different way, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”, but that was about a different set of steps on that same path. And, to further differentiate, “Lady Bird” is quintessentially American – even as it maintains a universal message. (Although, to be fair, I’m not sure it will connect with the majority of people of color in the same way at all…I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. Everyone will likely find it terrific and affecting, but, to be clear, this is a film about the white experience of adolescence in America.)
But there’s another, equally powerful film within the film. And that is how that initiation plays out in one’s relationship to the dominant parental unit…in this case, the child’s proximity to, and desire to get out from under, the mother. The dialogue in this film is scarily, uncomfortably, and painfully real. The deft interplay in the script…the extreme, emotional barbs interspersed almost simultaneously with the mundane…plays dangerously with our own memory banks, forcing us to examine our most negatively impactful memories with fresh eyes. Were they that bad? And, even if they were, did they help steer us in directions that made us better adults? Truly, how many films can you think of that so successfully bring these kinds of thoughts to the fore?
And while a vast amount of the glory should go to Gerwig for her expert direction and brilliant script (a script that teens will use in high school auditions for years to come), none of it works without a note-perfect ensemble. Firstly, Saoirse Ronan is God. I’m not sure how she does it, but her Lady Bird is simply brilliant. Her obstinate nature, depth of feeling, anger, love and manners are as if out of a documentary. It is, as was her work in “Brooklyn”, worthy of ANY award that comes her way (hint hint, my fellow SAG members). On her heels, and maybe even more astonishing, is Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Normally in films such as these, the parents are watered down to become caricatures of hen-pecking haggling and maybe someone the child must come back to and say “thanks for being so hard on me”. Not so, in this film. Metcalf plays a mother whose every decision seems to come from someplace both maternal AND challenging AND searching. It’s a brilliant performance worthy of ANY award that comes her way (hint hint, my fellow SAG members). Tracey Letts finds new ways to impress as a father who has lost his ability to fight back against a world that has let him go. Beanie Feldstein, as best friend and moral compass, Julie Steffans, is equally terrific, if less celebrated. And Lucas Hedges convincingly gives one of the more heart-breaking performances in a scene we’ll see this year. The lone sour note in the cast, for me, was Timothee Chalamet’s uber-hipster Kyle. His purpose in the script was too important for what I perceived as a two-dimensional attack. It’s okay, though. In no way does it detract from one’s experience of the film.
Production values are nothing spectacular, but that allows us to focus on the words and the relationships. It’s shot in a light that points out the film’s intentions…that, for someone who aspires to more in the way our central character does, growing up in a town like Sacramento is, at best, dim and muted. It is, however, edited to perfection by Gerwig and Nick Houy. Finally, the score from Jon Brion, is, on its own, nothing special, but absolutely works within the confines of the film’s context.
This is an easy choice for a Best Picture Oscar nom, as well as EVERYONE’S Top Ten lists. But, more importantly, and for so many reasons, a film everyone should see…maybe more than once.
Written on 12/9/2017