Indie darling and longtime Baumbach muse, Greta Gerwig, makes her directorial debut with Lady Bird, a, you guessed it, coming of age tale about a high school senior navigating her final months before adulthood. It was easy to be skeptical of Lady Bird — resistant, even — at first. As much as I adore the bulk of Gerwig’s work, there are times when her aggressive quirking of the material can wear thin. Lady Bird is not one of those times.
The film opens up at such a fast clip that it almost defies the viewer to get on board. It’s a bold choice, but a smart one at that. There’s simply no time to worry about the shaggy dog nature of Gerwig’s style. This offset some viewers (I spoke with a few audience members who couldn’t keep up at first), but all were won over before the first act reached completion. Saiorse Ronan plays our titular character, a young woman from Sacramento, whose self-diagnosis of “from the wrong side of the tracks” describes her family’s financial situation as well as their literal geography.
Lady Bird goes to a school attended by children from rich families. Lady Bird’s family, not so much. Her dad (Tracey Letts, KILLING IT) has just been laid off. Her mom (Laurie Metcalf, perfection) is feeling the collective stresses of financial woes, and the impending empty nest status of her home. And Lady Bird just wants to be accepted into a college that will take her far away from Sacramento. And she wants to have sex. And she wants to be considered deep. And popular. And cool. And an outcast. She wants to star in the school play. A play that she’s waaaay cooler than. Can we turn off the Dave Matthews Band? I hate it (I like it). You know the type.
What can I say? Gerwig knocks it out of the park. The same way that Woody Allen films usually have
a surrogate Woody at their center, so has Gerwig found a surrogate in Ronan. Being set in 2003, the
look of the film triggers nostalgia for those of us on the older end of the millennial set, and despite being
about a young woman, the thematic resonance breaks boundaries of gender, making Lady Bird
uncommonly relatable. It’s also consistently hilarious.