Why do films resonate with some people and not with others? There are films — and books, music, etc. — that I hated when I was young but came to appreciate later. Life does that, it constantly shapes and re-shapes perception.
“Lady Bird” is that sort of film. Set in 2002, it follows Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who when asked her given name says “Lady Bird” to express her individuality “, as she navigates the final year of high school. She struggles to find focus in school work, reevaluates friendships, fights with her mother (the always wonderful Laurie Metcalf), and generally tries to figure out how one becomes an individual.
Having a daughter who was in high school at the same time, “Lady Bird” felt like a time machine as I watched variations of the same scenarios I had seen in real life. It is a small film, but one of the most delightful and honest films I have seen, a coming-of-age character study that gives its tight ensemble cast plenty to work with.
Ronan was Oscar nominated for “Brooklyn” two years ago, and is a front runner for another one this year. The actress has the uncanny ability to be perfectly natural. She moves through every emotion in the book without once seeming like she’s actually acting. I know, I know, that’s what good acting is, but how often does one see it done so well.
Metcalf is a shoo-in for a supporting acting nod as Marion, a nurse who struggles to keep the family going as her husband Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job. When Lady Bird refers to them as living on the other side of the tracks, we see the hurt in Marion’s eyes. Marion’s constant picking at her daughter — about everything — fuels the strained relationship, yet, like everyone else in the film, she is just doing the best she can.
Writer/director Greta Gerwig, already an indie darling as an actress, has written a marvelous script where no one is the villain — each person is just trying to find their way.
Letts’ Larry is the supportive father trying to walk the tightrope between mother and daughter. Lady Bird’s relationship with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) reflects the twists that come from long-time relationships among people who are growing in different ways.
While “Lady Bird” has moments of drama and conflict, it is also a sweet elegy to small-town teen-age America. There is no real climax to the film. Life goes on, maybe with everyone a little wiser, but who knows?
“Lady Bird” is good. Whether it is very good depends on who you are and how you relate. I liked it a lot. My daughter liked it well enough — “But then again, I lived it,” she said.
Told you it was real.
“Lady Bird” is rated R.