by Alan Yudman
SIXTEEN CANDLES is kind of the gold standard in “teenaged girl from the wrong side of the tracks tries to fit in with the popular crowd” movies. Until now.
LADY BIRD is the story of a high school senior who is literally from the wrong side of the tracks. Saorise Ronan is that teenager. She’s a bit of an outsider at an all-girls Catholic high school in Sacramento. Her parents are barely scraping by, but they wanted her to go to this private school. The title comes from her self-given name “Lady Bird”. She doesn’t want to be called by her given name, Christine. It is her way of rebelling against her mother who is demanding and passive aggressive at the same time. It seems Lady Bird can do nothing to please her and she is overly critical of her daughter. She is wonderfully played by Laurie Metcalf.
Lady Bird also wants to get out of Sacramento, or as she calls it the Midwest of California. Sorry, I don’t mean to give away all the jokes in this movie but there are a ton of funny moments. Laugh out loud funny moments. Theater erupting with laughter moments. But those are also quickly followed by moments where you are touched by the sensitivity of the characters. There is love, frustration and passion. Exactly like a real family.
Lady Bird abandons her best friend to try to get in with a popular girl who is friends with a hot guy who attends the partner boys Catholic school. The results of all this are pretty predictable in a John Hughes movie kind of way. But this is all about the execution of the story.
For her first solo flight at director and screenwriter, Greta Gerwig nails both. She co-wrote FRANCES HA and MISTRESS AMERICA with her now boyfriend Noah Baumbach. So some of his DNA is in this as far as style and character. But the characters are less annoyingly outside the norm. They are flawed and quirky, but real and likable.
Gerwig gets great performances from Ronan and Metcalf. Ronan is achingly innocent and wise at the same time. Metcalf is just stellar. The real surprise was the performance of Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister if that matters). Her wide-eyed innocence and arc of growth and maturity are wonderfully portrayed. More Beanie please!
This is also kind of a love letter to Sacramento (even though some of it was shot in the San Gabriel Valley). The cinematography show’s California’s capital in the best possible light. I’ve been to Sacramento, it’s never looked this good. It’s also a love letter to home. You may want to travel the world, or in Lady Bird’s case go to school in New York City but home is always the place you feel safe.
LADY BIRD is a fantastic film that is nearly perfect.. like Oscar-level perfect. I could point out some plot holes, but they aren’t worth mentioning as they didn’t make me love it less. I’ve always appreciated Gerwig as an actress. Now I can’t wait to see what she does next as a writer and director.