Deep into Lady Bird, a terrific new comedy attracting plenty of acclaim (critics’ approval on Rotten Tomatoes is 100 percent), an affectionate but helplessly judgmental mother (Laurie Metcalf) turns to her teenage daughter, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and says, “I just want you to be the best version of yourself that you be.”
OK, you might think, here’s a line I’ve heard before in any number of coming-of-age films—Juno, Adventureland, The Perks of Being a Wallflower—but the daughter, not missing a beat, responds with, “But what if this is the best version?”
Lady Bird is so different from other ‘teen angst” films – so smart, so hilarious, so note-perfect. It’s no wonder A.O. Scott of The New York Times called the movie “big screen perfection” and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it “simply irresistible.”
I’ve been in love with Lady Bird since I saw it premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. What some considered to be a modest indie with lovely performances has evolved into a major break-out hit, garnering some of the best reviews of the year. In a world of male-dominated blockbusters, Lady Bird might not be able to stay aloft with such heightened expectations, but when someone asks me if it’s as great as the reviews make it out to be, I say, “Yes!” I love, love, love Lady Bird, and I’ll bet you will too.
In the film, Lady Bird is the preferred name of 17-year-old Christine McPherson.
“Lady Bird. Is that your given name?” asks an impatient teacher.
“I gave it to myself. It was given to me,” Lady Bird responds. “To me, by me.”
Lady Bird yearns to fly far from her Sacramento hometown. She shares the hard-edged viewpoint of late author Joan Didion, a quote from whom fills the opening screen: “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
Lady Bird is an embodiment of contradiction: impulsive yet focused, awkward yet spontaneous, self-centered yet generous. She dyes her hair red and has an impressive, almost obsessive, knowledge of Alanis Morissette songs. Her life is filled with the familiar circus of young adulthood: math tests, school musical productions, acne, mean girls, cool teachers and embarrassing parents.
Lady Bird is embarrassed by her mother Marion, who is doing double shifts as a psych ward nurse and who, like so many adults, can’t seem to say the right thing to her child even though she never seems to stop talking. In one particularly illuminating scene, the mother and daughter are in the car.
Lady Bird: “I hate California. I want to go the East Coast. I want to go where there’s culture, someplace like New York.
Marion: “How in the world did I raise such a snob?”
Lady Bird: “Or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire, where writers live in the woods.”
Marion: “You wouldn’t get into those schools anyway.”
With that, Lady Bird opens her door and jumps from the fast-moving car.
Ultimately, Lady Bird is a must-see film. Gerwig, Metcalf and Ronan are all at the top of their profession, with writer/director Gerwig crafting her first full-length feature behind the camera. All three are destined for sure-bet Oscar nominations, and the timing couldn’t be better to celebrate their exquisite achievement.
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