During our teenage years, many of us long to be something more. We feel trapped in our skin and long for a sense of adventure, without realizing that the real life-changing experiences are right underneath our noses. “Lady Bird” does a remarkable job of capturing this feeling of restlessness. Greta Gerwig’s directing effort is part coming-of-age tale and part love note to her hometown of Sacramento. It will remind everyone everywhere of their own American high school experience. While this movie hits all the traditional buttons of any great flick about growing up and embraces some new ideas stylistically, it’s also held back by story beats are so predictable you can see them coming from a mile away leaving viewers wishing that most of the best lines weren’t spoiled by the trailers.
Saoirse Ronan plays seventeen-year-old Lady Bird (given name Christine). She is quirky and edgy, truly a bird flying in a flock of one. She dreams of someday leaving Sacramento and her family from the other side of the tracks behind. The film is set in her senior year of high school in the year 2002. The year offers a road block for Lady Bird who longs to travel to New York City for college, but in the aftermath of 9/11 she finds herself constantly reminded of the rise of terrorism and knows that she will probably just need to settle for UC Davis. Ronan is truly wonderful in this role and a breath of fresh air to the Hollywood acting community at large. She makes us feel that in our formative years we either were her or knew someone just like her. A lot of her comedy comes from the fact that she takes herself way too seriously (a mistake that we all made as teens). The true beauty is in the way Gerwig crafted the teenagers to feel like real people instead of rehashing the high school characters that we have all seen before.
As much as the story is Lady Bird’s, it is equally her mother’s. Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf, is struggling to give her only daughter the life she never had by working double shifts at her job. While Marion tries to act tough and passive aggressive, there is so much love behind her façade. She just doesn’t want to see her daughter get hurt but also can’t stand the thought of losing her baby girl. From the character’s very first scene, we feel this love in their every word as Marion confesses that she sent her daughter to Catholic school because Lady Bird’s older brother saw a boy get stabbed at the public high school. Whether they like it or not, Marion and Lady Bird are more similar than different, especially in the way that they both fear letting the other one down, but are too stubborn to admit this.
Stylistically, “Lady Bird” feels flawless. The editing keeps the story from lagging and gives the comedy some punch. The movie is undoubtedly a great example of coming-of-age storytelling and acting, but as whole it lacks new ideas in the story department, making it feel predictable. Even though the film is based on Gerwig’s actual life and not just a standard Hollywood writing formula, audience members will still find themselves guessing every beat along the journey through Lady Bird’s final high school year.