Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Directed by: Gerta Gerwig (debut)
Written by: Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”)
It may not push past all the tropes of coming-of-age films that came before it, but “Lady Bird,” the directorial debut of indie-darling actress Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”), is a wonderful testament on how not everything has to be exceptionally groundbreaking to be an intelligent and insightful contribution to a subgenre. With “Lady Bird,” Gerwig has created a tender, engaging and clever script that any first-time filmmaker would love to claim as his or her introduction to the cinematic world from behind the camera. Gerwig has a distinctive voice – although there are hints of directors like Noam Baumbach, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers sprinkled into it – that should be interesting to watch as she grows into her own.
In “Lady Bird,” two-time Academy Award nominated actress Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, a teenager living unhappily in Sacramento with her sympathetic father (Tracy Letts) and overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf) and attending a Catholic high school with her best friend Jules (Beanie Feldstein). As a somewhat autobiographical take on her own life, Gerwig maneuvers through the narrative with compassion and humor as Lady Bird plans her escape from her hometown and hopes to attend college in New York City, although her grades are mediocre and her family can only afford community college.
Lady Bird’s teenage angst takes over most of the picture, but Gerwig doesn’t allow her main character to ever become unlikeable. Sure, she’s a bit of a spoiled brat with her mom, but her overall personality makes up for it and audiences are able to root for her as she tries to “find herself” and find a way out. The film mostly hinges on the tempestuous relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. The multifaceted dynamic between the two is deep, and Ronan and Metcalf are sharp when they share the screen.
While the storytelling is fairly ordinary, there is life behind the universal themes Gerwig explores with her own sense of satisfaction, frustration and wide-eyed wonderment. This definitely feels like a “first film,” but not all first films feel this rich with potential.