The dominating force behind Lady Bird is not just the (nearly) tight script or the solid direction from actress Greta Gerwig, but the sheer presence of chemistry between all the actors.
Set right after the events of 9/11, we meet Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan). Living in Sacramento, he is in her final year at the local private Catholic school, switching because a boy was knifed at the public school. Her main source of anxiety is clearly her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who is demanding but still loving. Lady Bird yearns to go to the east coast, but (as reminded by her mother), it is not part of the plan.
At school, Lady Bird tries to find something to keep her going, including entering theater with her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) where she meets Danny (Manchester by the Sea‘s Lucas Hedges). Other characters enter her life, including Jenna (Odeya Rush) and Kyle (Timothee Chalamet).
Having never gone to a private catholic school myself, I cannot say how realistic the situations are, but they sure do feel authentic. Whether it is lying on the floor eating the communion bread (“it’s not consecrated!”), school dances (“leave six inches for the Holy Spirit”), or assemblies about abortion, the purity of real life seems perfectly played out.
When it comes to coming of age stories, I always like to notice chemistry between young actors playing love interests. While that chemistry is there, the heart of the movie is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. Sure, her father (Tracy Letts) is seen as the “good guy”, and she gets in verbal fights with her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), but there is such palpable tension between mother and daughter that it is impossible to ignore.
This is due, of course, mainly to the talented actors. Ronan is one of the best actresses of her generation (it is such a different role than she had in Brooklyn, which she was nominated for an Oscar). As for Metcalf as Marion, well, all I can say is I can’t remember catching her in the act. We don’t see acting, only a mother who is doing all she can with what life has given her. Both should be strong contenders come this awards season.
Parents, the movie is clearly not for children. There is plenty of swearing and sexual content and graphic nudity (from a playgirl magazine). Trust the R rating on this one.
The movie is not entirely perfect (the last ten minutes seemed to be superfluous, except for the phone call part). Still, it is great to see Gerwig can have a potentially great career as a director (let alone as an actress). It is also, as always, refreshing to see great actors not playing caricatures, but real people.
Overall: Four Stars ****