Lady Bird

Coming of age story

No, this film is not about Lady Bird Johnson. The title character, 17-year-old Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan in an outstanding performance), gives herself that moniker to try to establish a different identity. She wants to escape her hometown of Sacramento, which she calls “the Midwest of California” (as if the Midwest were a bad thing), and get into an East Coast college, preferably in New York City.

What we pay attention to reveals what we love.

Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, who is equally good), has other ideas. She harps on her daughter constantly that their family can’t afford to send her out of state to school, that her adopted brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), went to UC Davis, and that should be good enough for her. Meanwhile, because Miguel reportedly saw someone knifed at his public school, Marion sends her daughter to Xavier, a Catholic high school, for her senior year.

This costs money, and the family’s financial woes deepen when the father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Marion continues working double shifts as a nurse.

The fiery mother-daughter relationship is at the center of this excellent film by first-time director Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the screenplay. Lady Bird sneaks up on you. The daughter’s rebellion and the mother’s relentless criticism eventually lead to an emotionally satisfying resolution that just borders on being too tidy.

Gerwig works with the teenage coming-of-age genre but takes it in new directions. She also laces the dialogue with satire and the plot with humor. And she handles the Roman Catholic setting with nice detail and without denigrating the church. In fact, she sneaks in some nice theological touches. In one scene, an elderly nun at the school makes a key point that what we pay attention to reveals what we love. This turns out to be a key theme of the film.

The strength of the film is Gerwig’s screenplay, which is filled with subtle humor and psychological insights. The visual aspects are weaker. The film focuses mainly on actors talking; not much creative happens cinematically.

Lady Bird is at times fun to watch, at other times difficult, but in the end is a moving film about a mother and daughter who discover their love for each other.

Lady Bird is rated R for language and sexual content.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.