It’s that time of year again where every film out in the theaters has a blurb somewhere out there on their marketing material claiming it to be “The Best Film of 2017.” In the case of Lady Bird I’m having a difficult time finding an argument against that claim, because there has got to be a lot of raw cinematic magic at play to make me feel the type of kinship I did with its 17-year-old schoolgirl lead with pink hair from Sacramento attempting to navigate her way through the early aughts and young adulthood. This thing is packed with feels.
I wish I knew how to write as effusively about a film like this as other critics, finding all of the words to talk about how it manages to simply be something wonderful to watch. It doesn’t require alien invasions, neither cape nor cowl in sight, and there didn’t have to be some proven intellectual property to get it past a greenlight and into production. I wish movies like it could resonate with audiences the way it has been the past few weeks. After catching it twice in theaters now, the overall reaction I’ve gauged from the crowds walking out after the credits is something I haven’t seen all too much of in 2017: Satisfaction.
So what’s it about? Well on paper it sounds like your typical indie film that becomes a critical darling somewhere like TIFF or SXSW. It’s a story about a mother and daughter who are so alike they can’t help but butt heads on a never ending basis, heavily motivated by the fact our lead, Catherine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), is hellbent on leaving the nest and attending any school on the East coast that will take her away from Sacramento. Marion, her mother played by veteran actress Laurie Metcalf in an Oscar caliber performance, is finding herself just as lost in her emotions as this new phase of her own life begins – both kids growing up, a husband losing his job, trapped by emotional baggage of her own mother still lingering. One’s push towards adulthood is the others acceptance of letting go, and they’re both kicking and screaming. It’s a narrative very much determined to display an authentic relationship between mother and daughter. Families fight, especially Irish/Catholic ones, that’s really the thread everything else hangs on as we drift through Lady’s senior year of slipping grades, passing romances, prom, finding a coveted spot within the popular crowd, getting her license and all of those other teenage moments most will be brought back to as they watch with a relatable, empathetic smile on their face.
This is a big leap I’m about to take but a part of me has often wondered what Donnie Darko would have been like without all of the mystery and science fiction elements. There was something inside Richard Kelly’s story about a high school outcast coming of age in the 80s that seemed like it could still hold strong on its own two feet without the genre elements. Lady Bird in some odd way is what that type of story could have been; A small scale slice of life, focused not so much on plot as moments of growing up and interactions largely directed by uncertainty and bubbling emotions with just a skosh of political background noise.
Lady Bird is about how people relate to each other, it doesn’t need these manufactured dramatic moments, it doesn’t require “scenes” it’s one of those slice of life films with its own pace and rhythm that carries the audience away. Coming of age films with female leads have a terrible habit of being written and directed by men who think what women really go through at that age is internal quarrels about young love and finding purpose by way of external validation. At it’s core this is a film about that crazy year before graduating from high school, it resonates on a universal level; You’re watching a person become themselves.
Every year around this time we find ourselves awash with an endless sea of top ten lists, award nominations, and studios bringing out their big prestige pictures, trying to make up for the glut of summer’s empty calories at the theater. The problem with that is it feels like every auditorium becomes crowded by dark and dower dramas constantly trying to one up each other with their brooding. Lady Bird is this years antidote to that inevitable flood of dramatica. I have no idea what Greta Gerwig has in store after this, but consider me excited to find out. This is a truly fantastic directorial debut by the young actress. I was devastated by this movie, an absolute joy with the simple objective of telling an intimate tale about an honestly told life. Highly Recommended.
Tags: Greta Girwig, Lady Bird, Laurie Metcalf, Saoirse Ronan