Lady Bird‘s premise is one that could easily be overdone: a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in the early 2000’s. Starring Saorise Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, the film centers around Ronan’s character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a spirited, imaginative and outgoing teenager who has a conflicting relationship with her working-class family.
The things that make this film unique from all other coming-of-age films are Gerwig-specific details. Gerwig sets the film in Sacramento, her own hometown. Like Gerwig, Lady Bird attends an all-girls Catholic high school and is interested in musical theatre. The film feels like a tribute to Gerwig’s own adolescence, but also a tribute to everyone’s tumultuous teenage years.
We first meet Lady Bird on the way home from a college visit with her overly-critical but loving mother. After getting into a petty argument, Lady Bird, who seemingly can’t tolerate being in the car with her mother, opens the door and leaps out of the moving vehicle. She wears a cast for much of the rest of the film.
The relationship between Lady Bird and her mom is the center of the film. Their outbursts & mean spirited snipes at each other cover up a deep love and affection for each other. Seeing their relationship up close, through Lady Bird’s first boyfriend to conversations about sex, is not something you see in other films. Gerwig treats their relationship with care & nuance, and at times, you can relate to both characters: Lady Bird with her rich imagination and brash personality and Marion, her mother, a hardworking nurse who simply wants the best for her kids. It isn’t until after they have left each other that they begin to relate to one another.
Lady Bird’s other relationship happen over the course of her final school year–her relationship with her best friend waxes and wanes as she begins spending time with a wealthy, popular classmate. She crushes on (and kisses!) two different boys: a sweet boy at her Catholic school played expertly by Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) and a brooding musician-type named Kyle played by Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name). She applies to colleges and smokes pot. She goes to dances and listens to “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band in the car with her best friend. She gets a job at a coffeeshop and invents a fake life for herself. Her life is largely ordinary adolescence, and while she’s waiting for something big to happen to her, she doesn’t realize that something is happening to her: she’s growing up.
If you only have one movie to see before the end of the year, choose Lady Bird.