An auspicious first-time outing for director Greta Gerwig
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away – Henry David Thoreau”
“Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson” (Saoirse Ronan – The Grand Budapest Hotel) definitely marches to her own cadence. Lady Bird is her given name, a name she gave to herself. She lives on the “wrong side of the tracks” in Sacramento in 2002. Her mother “Marion” (Laurie Metcalf – Stop-Loss) insists that Lady Bird go to an all-girls Catholic school. Seems that Lady Bird’s brother “Miguel” (Jordan Rodrigues) saw someone almost get stabbed at the public high school and that made up Marion’s mind. She is more than a bit too tightly wrapped. Her husband “Larry” (Tracy Letts – The Lovers) is a good guy under a lot of stress.
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Lady Bird and her best friend “Julie” (Beanie Feldstein) decide to audition for the fall musical at that school. That’s where Lady Bird first connects with “Danny” (Lucas Hedges – Moonrise Kingdom). He is a polite theater nerd who quickly becomes enamored of Lady Bird and then begin dating. But there’s a secret about Danny that will become known to Lady Bird at just the wrong moment. She also becomes involved with upscale rebel “Kyle” (Timothée Chalamet – The Adderall Diaries), who like Danny, is from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Worse yet, he is a self-styled anarchist, who totes Howard Zinn books around.
Marion wants Christine (she is the only person who won’t refer to Lady Bird by the name she has given to herself) to go to a university near their Sacramento home. Lady Bird has set her sights on going to a school back east and with her father’s assistance, applies to a number of them.
The coming of age story has been done over and over, sometimes very well but most often in an ordinary way. Those exceptions where it is done well (Stand By Me, The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now; to name a few are almost always thought-provoking and have a “real” feeling to them. We identify with them because we all have our own coming of age tale etched firmly in our minds. We see ourselves in one or more of the characters in these films. Greta Gerwig’s film isn’t completely autobiographical, but she has drawn on her own life experiences in crafting this superb story. It is aided by terrific turns from the cast, particularly Saoirse Ronan in the lead role. Beanie Feldstein’s comic chops are solid, which makes sense since she is the younger sister of Jonah Hill. Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalfe are excellent as the parents struggling to do the best they can for a challenging child.
The running time of 94 minutes seems a tad short before you enter the auditorium, but Ms Gerwig makes the most of every second of those minutes. Strong dialogue mixed with just the right images, and a soundtrack that fits the film’s timeline make Lady Bird well worth at least one viewing. Maybe more than one.