Movie Review: High-flying Ronan has ‘Lady Bird’ soaring
Director: Greta Gerwig
Writers: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges
Synopsis: The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.
Life’s funny, authoring this “take it easy” doctrine while implying that to “sprout wings” is the only method to earn all the goodness. It’s a struggle that coming-of-age films tend to capture best, seeing that its protagonists can, no matter how illogical, always uncover a reason to reject jadedness and its grownup-approved virtues. Being in this category, Lady Bird tells a familiar narrative, but its lead has, rather brilliantly, managed to package it with freshness that entertains and prompts reflection.
Lady Bird follows Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who is often seen grilling her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), for not letting her – someone with an avian nickname – to realize East Coast-uni dreams and fantasies of settling in culture-rich places. Anywhere but Sacramento, to sum things up. California’s capital city isn’t a backwater place though it is amusingly depicted as so here, a move that effectively captures the character’s mindset. And so, to further avoid being engulfed by the ordinary, Christine decides to adopt “Lady Bird” – in quotes in writing – as her actual name. What is weirdness to others is a life philosophy for her, asserting that circumstances can cage Lady Bird’s body but never her dreams.
“Greta Gerwig isn’t in Lady Bird, and yet is,” is a thought that makes itself known often while watching the film. It isn’t distracting as it sounds (promise) and isn’t that much of a brain-twister, really, considering the actress’ name is after “directed by” credit (this is her first time in the seat solo) and the title character shares Frances Ha’s angst and sharpness (the screenplay is also Greta’s). Gathered are the usual suspects of this genre – school plays, proms, age-influenced clashes, popularity contest, the crowd cooler than your best friend, and love’s varying brushes – but sharp scripting and punchy performances across the board still make their presence welcoming. Dynamics between Lady Bird and the surrounding souls of her age are a trove of glee, with highlights among them are those with her two classmates Julie (Beanie Feldstein, effortlessly handing out the laughs) and Danny (a lively Lucas Hedges).
Equally golden are Lady Bird “matches” with the adults, especially the ones with her foil Marion, which are – naturally – designed to earn the most spotlight. Lady Bird, for the most part, can’t be more different than Marion, but Ronan can always match the level of intensity or gravitas that Metcalf has brought along. The result is every mother-and-daughter spar is a joyous verbal even when the contents – money, college, and future – are hard-hitting material, not to mention besieged by a discrepancy in how the different generations perceive the times differently. Lady Bird is set in a post-9/11 world – not too long after the tragedy as the background TV and radio broadcasts prove – and so the stressful atmosphere is always half-a-breath away. It’s a meaningfully woven detail that adds layers to the characters who, like the country then (and regrettably still is), unclear about the future and unstable regarding well-being.
But whether the stage is set for another familial conflict or a burst of organic laugh (best use of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River yet), Ronan is a gale-force. The footage, which is already radiating, receives even more lumens when she is around reversing her modest, shy, and God-aware persona in last seen in Brooklyn or grudgingly letting go of a possible future. In every swing between the emotional polars, Ronan subtly shows that her character is evolving, adding more (proverbial) magenta-colored feathers to better understand, see, and roll with the world’s unfathomable workings. A winning performance, undoubtedly so, as it alone enables the film to be a universal portrait despite focusing on just one person, a message that life’s experienced can relate even though doing the imparting is a still-learning lass.
Now that’s funny.
Overall Grade: A
Hear our podcast review on Episode 249, coming soon.