Brendan Bellavia’s review published on Letterboxd:
I think it’s safe to say that everyone has gone through some sort of identity crisis during their teen years. Sometimes it is being ashamed of who you really are, or just oblivious to what you really love and enjoy. It could be an insecurity or a fear to grow into adulthood. Whatever the case may be, this is certainly what we see from main character, Christine McPherson, who willingly decides to change her name to “Lady Bird.” A given name by her to herself. It’s never exactly explained why she gave herself that name, but one can make the assumption that it’s based on former First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson. A very powerful and important woman in the United States. Christine grows up in the city of Sacramento and lives in a poverty-stricken home with her mother, father, adopted brother, and her adopted brother’s girlfriend. Someone who Christine’s mother decided to take in and live with them after her own parents kicked her out of her own home. Christine certainly isn’t your typical teenage girl, which makes her all the more intriguing. She has pink hair and is forced to wear a pink cast on her arm after jumping out of a moving car. However, she is also very strong-willed and opinionated. She claims to hate the city she lives in and move far away to the east coast. She is passionate about the theater and has a deep love of the arts. It’s clear that Lady Bird has big dreams, but as it becomes more apparent she is completely blind to the fact that she is already very fortunate with things she already has.
Lady Bird is written and directed by the great Greta Gerwig, who has made a name for herself in the indie scene as an actress in such films as Frances Ha, Mistress America, and 20th Century Women. This is her directorial debut, and boy is it an impressive debut. She already has proved how wonderful of a writer she his, but her directing is just as good here. A lot of the movie is autobiographical for Gerwig. Just like Christine in the film, Gerwig also grew up in Sacramento in the early 2000’s, went to Catholic school, and listened to Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews Band, and Justin Timberlake on a loop. It is clear that Gerwig put her heart and soul into creating this film, and it shows on-screen. She never spoon feeds her audience either with unnecessary exposition. She knows that her audience will follow a long and catch specific things. Gerwig fills the entire movie with great little subtle moments, and great hints of foreshadowing very early on in the film that can even make it better on multiple re-watches. Gerwig clearly knew exactly what she wanted, and in return, we are given a film that is breathtakingly original, authentic, and sweet.
The character of Christine, is portrayed by the ever-so-talented young actress Saoirse Ronan. If you have seen any interviews with the real life actress, then you will know just how deep Ronan went in to character to play Christine. Ronan has described in interviews promoting the film how she wanted to base Christine on Greta in a lot of ways, but also on herself. In a way, the character of Christine McPherson, is a combination of the actress and director. This might sound weird, but I also love the fact that Christine has acne in the movie. I read that it was actually a real acne breakout that Ronan had at the time of filming, but where most directors would have covered it up with makeup, Gerwig cleverly keeps it in the film and allows for the character to look even more realistic as a teenager. She is truly a unique character, and one that is fully realized, multidimensional, and strong-willed and has a big heart, but also has some serious flaws as well.
The entire ensemble cast is phenomenal. Laurie Metcalf might give the best supporting performance in the film as the temperamental mother who often fights with Christine, but also loves her very much. This is a performance that could have gone terribly wrong in the hands of a lesser talented actress, but Metcalf plays her perfectly. She isn’t shy of being very demeaning, but also you can see the complexity in her, and the affection that she has for her entire family. The other cast is rounded out with very talented actors as well including Tracy Letts as Christine’s father, and Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet as her love interests. Now, lots of people will be very familiar with Hedges in one of 2016’s best films Manchester by the Sea, a role that earned him an Oscar Nomination. Hedges plays a character that is completely different from his character in Manchester by the Sea, which is very satisfying to see. Timothée Chamalet, on the other hand, is in heavy talks to get his own Oscar nomination soon for his lead role in one of 2017’s best films Call Me By Your Name. It’s safe to say his character is complexity different in this film as well. Ronan also has an Oscar Nomination for her role in one of 2015’s best films Brooklyn. It’s so great that these three talented, young actors shared a film together, and they have bright futures ahead of them and many more Oscar nominations to come.
There’s a brief “blink and you’ll miss” moment of a scene in Christine’s room, where we see a poster of the film Rushmore, directed by Wes Anderson. I think it is very fitting for that particular poster to be in the film, because Lady Bird might just be the best coming of age story I’ve seen since Rushmore. It moves like Rushmore does, where there’s never one bad scene, and the film is hilarious, but also very touching. In a lot of ways Christine is the female version of Max Fischer (the main character of Rushmore). It’s clear she is very talented, but is a bit of a loose cannon. She is very strong-willed, and opinionated like a grown up, but also shows her age and can make scenarios very awkward in the blink of an eye. She is eager to do great things, but doesn’t want to put the time in effort into getting to those places. For anyone familiar with the film Rushmore, you know that Max Fischer is all those things as well.
Lady Bird is a wonderful directorial debut from Greta Gerwig, and a coming of age story that is extremely funny, quotable and also authentic. It is the perfect balance of poignancy and wit. Every so often, a film comes around that is pretty much flawless, and features characters who feel so real, and a story that is very original but also very relatable. Lady Bird fits that characterization with ease. No only does it work as a really well made coming of age story, but also a film that speaks about religion, class, and family values. It takes place in 2002 America, which was a big turning point for our country and perfectly parallels the character of Christine who is going through a big turning point in her life. Unfortunately, America has not changed much 15 years later, which may be something Gerwig was trying to speak about as well. You also can look at this film as a character study of a young woman who is trying to be someone who she is not. The film has a run-time of just 94 minutes, but Gerwig manages to get so much out of this film and say so much that it is truly amazing and the sign of a bright future for the young director. Gerwig has become, over the years, one of my favorite actresses working today, but I am honestly more excited to see her next directorial film than her next film as an actor. God only knows we need many more female voices in film