By Kim Hughes
A standard-issue coming-of-age story doesn’t seem like an obvious place to unearth something vibrant and new. And yet writer/director Greta Gerwig has done precisely that with Lady Bird, her clear-eyed and softly comedic story about a Catholic high schooler in suburban California trying to find her place in the universe.
On paper it doesn’t sound like a scorcher, and it’s not. Yet the film soars because it scans as real, each character someone who might very well live next door (and probably does), struggling with the mundane everyday issues — family, sex, love, money, status, expectation, and disappointment — that do more to shape us than we’d like to admit.
Lady Bird protagonist Christine’s realization of that uncomfortable fact powers the narrative arc.
College-bound and facing a tentative (possibly downbeat) future, Christine wrestles at every turn with limitations both real and imagined. She’s not a great student but covets a future at an Ivy League school. She knows her parents love her deeply, but is nevertheless angered by their refusal to confront the obstacles around them. Also, her paramour is not as ardent a suitor as she’d hoped, and her circle of friends just don’t seem so cool anymore.
Sound familiar? It should; Gerwig has essentially transcribed a day in the life. And that genuineness is exactly what makes Lady Bird fly. Well that, and fantastic performances, notably from Laurie Metcalf of Roseanne fame as Christine’s beleaguered but benign mother, Tracy Letts as her sympathetic dad, and especially Saoirse Ronan as the title character, who conjures all the contradictory elements that make teenagers those twitchy, infuriating balls of annoyance we all recognize… and love anyway.
Lady Bird. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, and Tracy Letts. Opens November 10 in Toronto (Varsity Cinema); November 17 in other major Canadian cities; and everywhere November 24.