Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenwriter: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/4/17
Opens: November 3, 2017
Some say that the best years of our lives occur in high school; others hold that adolescence is hell. Who’s right? Greta Gerwig, one of the most delightfully quirky actresses in Hollywood, now sits in the director’s chair analyzing the question through the experiences of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), the twenty-three-year-old Ms. Ronan playing a high school senior at the age of seventeen. (To see her comedic charm on a less three-dimensional stage than she plays in the movie, you’ll want to check out her M.C. role on Saturday Night Live on the air December 2.)
Christine calls herself Lady Bird perhaps to frustrate her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a woman who—we learn later—genuinely loves her only daughter but is unable to express her feelings except in writing. Though Lady Bird accuses her mother of passive aggression, she is a prime example as well, often baiting her mom and getting into needless arguments whether in her parents’ car or in her own room. There is a serious money problem in the McPherson household, partially brought on by her parents’ adoption of two children, one of whom, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), ironically competes successfully against his stepfather Larry McPherson (Tracy Letts), for a much needed job.
A major bone of contention finds Lady Bird and her mom arguing about the young woman’s desire to go to a college in New York as she is sick of living in the suburbs and especially hard on their location on the other side of the tracks in Sacramento. The best parts of the dramedy occur not in the McPherson household but in the Catholic high school that she attends, as she runs through two boy friends in a months of so, which is probably typical of high-school kids nowadays. Danny, one of the boyfriends whom she welcomes as the guy who will deflower her, says that he respects her too much to even touch her breasts, though it turns out that respect is hardly the reason he is so gallant. Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) is the handsomest boy in the school who welcomes the chance to help her lose her virginity, though he is odd for a high-school kid, believing that the government is tracking our movements and will soon plans devices in our heads. (For a deeper role, catch Mr. Chalamet in the film “Call Me by Your Name,” in the awards-worthy role of an awkward gay lad who is feeling out his identity through a relationship with an older student in Italy.)
The side roles are spot on. Laurie Metcalf shines as a penny-pinching mother who takes out her frustrations on her daughter, whether she complains about the way Lady Bird keeps a messy room and, more important, worried that her daughter will be admitted to an expensive college far from home. For his part, Tracy Letts plays an understanding father, one who “protects” Lady Bird from the onslaughts of her other, but who is an alcoholic who has long been fighting depression.
If you’re looking for a list of high-school movies that are pure fun, you can’t go wrong to lead with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” For a more three-dimensional and realistic portrayal of adolescence, “Lady Bird” is the ticket.
Rated R. 94 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B