Actress/screenwriter Greta Gerwig makes an auspicious directorial debut with this perceptive coming-of-age dramedy, chronicling the tempestuous bond between a teenager and her mother.
Set in 2002-3 in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, California, it begins with novelist Joan Didion’s acerbic observation: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is coping with her senior year at a Catholic high school and unrest at home, since her mild-mannered father, Larry (Tracy Letts), lost his job and her strong-willed mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), works two shifts as a psychiatric nurse to keep the lower middle-class family afloat, albeit on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks.
“I want you to be the best version of yourself,” her hypercritical, demeaning mother says. “What if this is the best version?” mildly rebellious Lady Bird counters.
Understandably eager to get away from home, just-turned-18 year-old Lady Bird secretly applies to East Coast colleges, “where the culture is,” even though her parents can barely afford in-state tuition at nearby UC Davis.
Not surprisingly, Lady Bird’s adolescent love life is awkwardly complicated, first by hunky thespian Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges), who is grappling with his own problems, then she loses her virginity to musician Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet).
Besieged by emotional contradictions and confusion, Lady Bird recklessly jilts her sensitive BFF Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein) for a richer, more popular classmate, Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush).
Filmmaker Gerwig pays attention to artfully delineated supporting characters, like the insightful counseling by Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) and the clueless ex-football coach-turned-drama director diagraming the staging of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with X’s and O’s on a chalkboard.
And – this being Award season – look for Saoirse Ronan as a Best Actress nominee and Laurie Metcalf as a Best Supporting Actress contender.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lady Bird” is an effectively empathetic 8, filled with sassy, bittersweet anguish.