Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Lady Bird

Grade : A Year : 2017 Director : Greta Gerwig Running Time : 1hr 34min Genre : ,
Movie review score

Greta Gerwig has made something special in her directorial debut. It has the feel of autobiography, which Gerwig denies, but it’s the truth of the situations in “Lady Bird” that make it special. Whether it’s by-the-letter life experiences or not, it doesn’t matter, because Gerwig and her actors make it real by the heart and soul they invest in it.

Saoirse Ronan has quietly become a favorite young actress of mine. Since her breakthrough, Oscar-nominated role in “Atonement” 10 years ago, she has done some versatile and lovely work in films like “The Lovely Bones,” “Hanna,” “Brooklyn” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that have made her a luminous presence in films. This is probably my favorite performance of hers, as she plays Christine McPherson, although she prefers her name she’s given herself, Lady Bird. She’s a senior at Catholic school, and she cannot wait to get away from her life with her family in Sacramento. She really wants to go to a liberal arts school in New York, but her family cannot really afford that unless she gets scholarships and financial aid. Her senior year will be about more than just college, though- her friends and social life will go through some changes that will define the person she chooses to be, regardless of where her academic career goes. This includes dating boys from the adjacent boy’s school, trying to emotionally distance herself from her family’s economic struggles, and also changing best friends midway through for expediency’s sake. Her family life is affected by all of this, as well, with no relationship more strained that the one she has with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf.

Metcalf requires her own paragraph about the work she does here. Best known for her television work (“Rosanne,” “The Big Bang Theory”), Metcalf’s Marion is the other central character in the film, as it is her relationship with Lady Bird that goes through the most evolution in the film. (I don’t want to diminish the work of any of the other actors, especially Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s amiable father, but Metcalf deserves to be singled out.) The work of Metcalf’s I’m most familiar with is her as Sheldon’s religious mother on the “Big Bang Theory,” and thinking about that role in comparison to this one is both fitting, and also doesn’t do her work here justice. We get the sense that Lady Bird and her mother only marginally get along- as her dad says, both of them are pretty strong-willed; we first see them on a road trip together, during which they have listened to the audio book of The Grapes of Wrath. Throughout the film, we see a pattern emerge, wherein Lady Bird’s behavior is selfish, like spending Thanksgiving with her boyfriend (Danny, played by Lucas Hedges) instead of her family, and her mother shuts down and gets stoic, only to have something break the ice, and relieve the tension. With lesser material, this could be maudlin and overplayed for effect, but Gerwig’s script and direction captures the sometimes-delicate and complicated nature of mother-child relationships effortlessly. We see mistakes made by both, but by the end, they have tried to meet each other halfway, and Ronan and Metcalf do beautiful and moving work opposite one another. The past few weeks have resulted in me watching some interesting character in movies, and this might be one of my favorites of not just this recent run, but this year. Both are getting much-deserved attention this year.

Gerwig- showing herself a legit force as a writer and director- Ronan and Metcalf are the major players behind “Lady Bird’s” success, but there’s a lot of great work done here by actors (Letts, Hedges, Timothee Chalamet as musician Kyle, Odeya Rush as rich, popular girl Jenna, and especially Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie) and collaborators like composer Jon Brion, whose oddly beautiful music goes well with the song soundtrack, and cinematographer Sam Levy, who captures a natural sheen that gives the film an authentic sense of time (2002-2003) and place. But it’s the performances by Ronan and Metcalf that stand out in this honest and heartfelt drama about a young woman figuring herself out, and a mother trying to understand her.

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