Written and directed by: Greta Gerwig
In my time watching film with a more critical eye, I’ve slowly developed the habit of observing the relationship between film’s and their trailers. Many audiences will go into Lady Bird knowing it is highly acclaimed, and that its protagonist is a bad-girl of sorts who celebrates her 18th birthday by demanding “camel lights, a scratcher, and a playgirl” at her local convenience store. Lady Bird, however is not a simple comedy that entertains audiences through the hair-brained antics of its wild-child protagonist. Instead, the film is ambitious in its realism. Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is charismatic and daring, perhaps a teenage (and human) version of Kevin Henkes’ children’s book character Lily, but she is not a rebel without a cause either.
Lady Bird’s can almost be split into two halves to it. Each half features a best friend (Beanie Feldstein and Odeya Rush) and a boyfriend (Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalomet). Rather than having a plot and a subplot or two, the film simply has a main plot coupled with a number of subplots that are unafraid to peter out. For example, we meet Lady Bird’s older brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues). We see some of his quirks and struggles, and are exposed to the underlying tensions in his and Lady Bird’s sibling- relationship, yet he never fully crystallizes into a main character. While certainly not understated, Lady Bird’s plot structure draws on the pacing and emotional weight of everyday drama. In doing so it manages to be emotionally engaging in a way that feels somewhat novel for Hollywood.
The success of Lady Bird’s realism perhaps can be tied to the screenwriter’s trust in our ability to take its character’s struggles seriously, even as the piece’s stakes are lowered. For instance, we know that Lady Bird struggles with math. The film clarifies that she is not at risk of failing, but rather in B- territory. This revelation does not take away from Lady Bird’s frustrations, it simply colors them. More importantly, the film’s main plot relies on an antagonistic relationship between Lady Bird and her strict, financially-anxious mother (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird, however, doesn’t do anything dramatic to get revenge on or sever her relationship with her mother: rather, she explicitly says on multiple occasions that she understands her mother’s thinking, and knows her mother loves her. This subtlety allows a broad range of viewers to identify with Lady Bird, and contrary to what one might assume, it does not make her story feel any less dramatic. Many of us live “boring” lives that inside our own heads are nonetheless compelling dramas. Lady Bird’s success comes from its committed attempt to bring that kind of drama to the big screen.
Lady Bird has broken Toy Story 2’s record for number of critics’ reviews its received on Rotten Tomatoes without garnering a single negative submission. While it may not be a singularly great movie, it is notable for the lines it sits on: it straddles the fence between realistic and whimsical, between dramatic and understated. Whether its Kyle Scheivle’s performative idealism, Sister Sarah Joan’s (Lois Smith) piousness-with-a-sense-of humour, or Julianne Steffan’s nickname, chances are you will at very least find a character or two compelling in Lady Bird