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Lady Bird

| November 10, 2017

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: life isn’t really a continuous flow as much as it is a plethora of events with causality connecting the individual bits. Lady Bird is a movie that knows the singularity—the fickleness—of life, and especially of adolescence. The movie has some micro-issues in regards to pacing, but it’s a beautiful slice of life in which virtually every beat rings true, deftly balancing adolescent humor and adult drama like one in the same. Now, if only someone could get Lucas Hedges to stop acting in the vicinity of others that drastically exceed his abilities.

The directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, who also acted as sole writer, the movie follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a high school senior in 2002 to 2003 northern California getting ready to head off to college and evade the aggressively loving arms of her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse trying to keep them afloat after father Larry (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Eager to get out of Catholic school and full of dreams of being a writer, she meanwhile begins to maybe forge a relationship with Danny (Hedges) and maybe forge a similar relationship with Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) when she isn’t hanging out with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). Again, the macro-experience doesn’t so much matter; it’s the collage of micro-experiences that add up to something that’s thoroughly entertaining and relatable before sneaking up on you emotionally.

Keeping in line with the humor and pathos evident in Frances Ha and Mistress America (albeit within a more restrained voice), Lady Bird is something of a minor miracle, an empathetic piece of observational humor and drama. While it stumbles a bit out of the gate, it soon after gains its stride for the remainder of its runtime, editor Nick Houy keeping the pace bouncy and cinematography Sam Levy (regular collaborator of Noah Baumbach) giving it a palette of beige that’s at once calming and intentionally banal. Gerwig seems to be otherwise finding her footing as a visual filmmaker as a lot of the film operates on a standard shot/reverse shot basis to follow conversations and no wow-inducing framing, but that’s pretty easy to forgive when what’s being depicted is so amiable.

Gerwig never apologizes for her protagonist’s sins, yet she emphasizes with the rationales behind her wrongdoings. There’s a balance of morality and apathy present throughout the script that filters out of Lady Bird herself, one that’s accelerating by a teen’s perceived lack of agency and desperation to prove oneself in the world. It’s thematically universal but unapologetically deadpan and occasionally sardonic in the ways in which Gerwig’s writing often is, but placed within the suburban high school context, the hues of human behavior shine with a different glisten—a difference sense of self-awareness—than her previous works. This is brought to fruition by a wonderful cast, both lead and supporting, namely Ronan and Metcalf, whose push-pull dynamic of blossoming and established worldviews encapsulate the insecurity of growing up as a whole. But again, Lucas Hedges is unable to convey serious drama, a scene of his falling down because of his inability to be more than charming in an everyman sense.

Nevertheless, Lady Bird never refuses to keep its feet fully planted on the ground. It’s a bit exaggerated, a tad off-center, but that’s okay. If movies are meant to act as a reflection their own characters, then the cinema screen itself is a mirror displaying an unsure expression back at its audience. The movie may not have quite reached its full potential, but it’s damn close. It knows itself—and that’s what matters.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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