Greta Gerwig’s brilliant directorial debut doesn’t miss a beat
After lead roles in top indie comedies (Baghead, Damsels in Distress), and starring in and co-writing top indie comedies (Frances Ha, Mistress America), Greta Gerwig completes the trifecta with her mightily impressive directorial debut, Lady Bird. It’s a pseudo-autobiographical coming-of-age (and coming-of-artist) tale. But it’s also a late-teen picaresque, its episodes not just torquing us through the title character’s lapses and lunges in maturity, but, crucially, wrenching us out of her late-teen solipsism.
It begins with a Joan Didion quote about The Golden State’s capital: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” That’s the sort of brainy sarcasm being chirped daily by Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who’s rechristened herself “Lady Bird.” It’s her last year at Catholic high school, 2002-2003, and she’s desperate to flee this NorCal burg for an East Coast college.
There are more funny lines in Lady Bird’s first five minutes than in most films. Even Lady Bird’s comment to the first boy she’s about to have sex with, as he’s putting on a condom, hints at her need, just then, to show off her erudition: “You’re so dexterous with that.” There are Lady Bird and her friend Julie’s (Beanie Feldstein) jars and jolts of seventeen-hood, from childish excitement over that first kiss to the recognition a classmate’s more mixed-up than you are. But no moment’s overblown or underwhelming—each one feels just as important as it should. Cutting away from Lady Bird’s own imaginings, frustrations, and feelings, or suddenly contrasting them with others,’ Gerwig reminds us of what lies beyond our own narrow vision.
That’s most true of the scenes with Lady Bird’s lower middle-class family, tracing an all-too-realistic mother-daughter bond. Marion (Laurie Metcalf) holds down the steady job as a nurse, but she feels she has to be the “bad guy” at home. Her hardness and sharpness are there in her daughter’s own obstinacy and braininess, though. In its final moments, Lady Bird reframes itself as a thank you letter from child to parent. What better thank you, though, than Gerwig’s reframing of her own life into such a great film?
Directed by Greta Gerwig