Greta Gerwig makes triumphant debut as solo director with coming-of-age comedy 'Lady Bird'

By Ann Hornaday The Washington Post - Updated: November 22, 2017 at 7:44 am • Published: November 22, 2017 0
photo - Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird." MUST CREDIT: Merie Wallace, A24
Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird." MUST CREDIT: Merie Wallace, A24

"I wish I could live through something."

So says Christine McPherson, the spiky, moody, flawed and delightful protagonist of "Lady Bird." The movie takes its title from the name Christine has bestowed upon herself during her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, which she sniffily dubs "the Midwest of California." Everything's terrible in Lady Bird's life now: Her educational prospects (she wants to go East but likely will end up at the local community college), her love life (it's complicated in the pre-Facebook sense of the term), and especially her mother, whose daily doses of doubt, anxiety and engulfing unconditional love put Lady Bird in a swivet of head-spinning mixed messages.

As a funny, poignant dramatization of a year in the life of an American teenager, "Lady Bird" follows the usual coming-of-age arc of missteps, regrets and amusing reckonings. But in the hands of Greta Gerwig, who makes her solo writing and directing debut, what might have been a by-the-numbers proposition turns out to be fizzily funny and wistfully affecting, a story whose familiar contours nevertheless contain something utterly original and revelatory. Gerwig became famous as an actress in films by such observant generational chroniclers as Joe Swanberg and Noah Baumbach; it's tempting - and not a little bit sexist - to believe she's learned at the feet of the masters. The insight and assurance of "Lady Bird" suggests it was she lending wisdom and taste to her male colleagues all along.

"Lady Bird" opens on a lovely shot of the title character, played by Saoirse Ronan, sleeping face-to-face with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). They're in a motel while touring college campuses. On the way home, an idle conversation escalates into a heated argument, culminating in Lady Bird opening the door of the moving car and diving out.

Anyone who's lived within the emotional cyclone known as adolescence will recognize the vertiginous highs and lows of "Lady Bird," which follows our heroine through a year that includes auditions for a Stephen Sondheim school musical, a romance with a sweet, gangly co-star (Lucas Hedges), a flirtation with a Howard Zinn-reading bad boy (Timothée Chalamet), and an ongoing battle royal with her mother and father (Tracy Letts).

"Lady Bird" is a triumph of style, sensibility and spirit. The girl at its center may not be a heavyweight, but her movie is epic.

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

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