It’s hard to write about a film that’s reputation and sterling critical acclaim is so pervasive and permanent it is part of film history DNA, already. So what makes Lady Bird so good? Nominated for five Oscars, it is only one of three films this year nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (original) add to that, its two acting nominations for Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf and it is a major contender this year.
A senior year in the life of Christine “Ladybird” McPherson in Sacramento, CA in 2002-2003 is a simple enough premise, but this slice of the life film does have a plot and is so brilliantly realized it feels like one of the freshest films in years.
Rebellious and with an artistic slant, “Lady Bird” struggles to fit in as her identity and sense of self crystallizes over the period of a calendar year. Lady Bird would be a glittering handful anywhere, but at the parochial all-girls school, Immaculate Heart, she is understandably difficult. Especially when she disrupts an anti-abortion lecture with a shocking outburst. Despite this, the school’s Principal Sister Sarah Joan, who is played by veteran actress Lois Smith, who happens to be 87 years old, is an ally who understands Lady Bird better than she understands herself.
Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother Marion, played by the incomparable Laurie Metcalf (one of my favorite actresses) is tumultuous and complicated. A frazzled working mother who must pull double shifts as a psychiatric nurse to help put food on the table, Marion is a loving mother who can be a stern task mother one moment and can provide great emotional support the next, Metcalf has never been better. Although she isn’t the favorite for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she certainly deserves it. There is a tendency to award actors for playing real people, most often famous people, which makes Metcalf’s performance even more impressive as her character is so vividly real; complicated, nuanced, totally credible and created from imagination.
Ronan again proves that she is one of the greatest actress working in film today. At 23 she already has three Oscar nominations, and is totally believable and lovable as a seventeen, then eighteen year old. It never feels like she is playing younger. She is both luminous and vulnerable on screen. The entire cast is great, including Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s warm, gentle father. He is less worried about Lady Bird screwing up her life than Marion, and is dealing with unemployment in the economic downsizing of the time period. Young Oscar nominees Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) both play Catholic School Boys who attend the partner Catholic school nearby and play romantic parts in Lady Bird’s senior year journey.
Greta Gerwig who is only the fifth woman to be nominated for best director, is the genius behind Lady Bird. She also wrote the film, which is hugely autobiographical and plays homage to her hometown, Sacramento. The fact that it is her first feature film as director is just icing on the cake and her success enhances the unique experience that is Lady Bird; just like the titular character. Both Lady Bird and Lady Bird McPherson are total charmers.