Lady Bird is one of those films that, if written by a younger or less connected individual, would have languished on someone’s hard drive before progressing past script stage. What I love about Lady Bird is that it’s a fairly simple, common experience told in a fun and loving way. Most of us have had experiences similar to the main character, Lady Bird/Christine. We went to high school. We fell in love. Our hearts were broken. We fought with our moms. The nuance is what’s important.
Some might say that “nothing happens” in this film, and in big-budget Hollywood blockbuster sense, they’re right. Screenwriting professors would insist that the main character in a film needs to be striving for something tangible and concrete for their journey to be worth watching, otherwise viewers will feel it doesn’t go anywhere. This film is a testament to the fact that screenwriting rules can be broken if the right components are in place. What is the titular Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) striving for? Escape out of Sacramento? A more interesting life? A better relationship with her mother? One may argue that none of these things is tangible or even very specific. But the film still works, and works WELL thanks to several complex characters and comedic interludes interspersed with relatable, heartfelt moments.
Lady Bird is a deeply personal film. Director Greta Gerwig said it was inspired by her experiences as a high schooler transitioning into the real world. Coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen—but they aren’t all as relatable as this one. Lady Bird feels true, even if, as Gerwig has said, none of these things literally happened to her. Regardless, most of us have had experiences similar to Lady Bird. I mean, who HASN’T cried in their car to overly emotional ballads?
The characters in Lady Bird are what make this film stand out. Lady Bird/Christine herself, albeit at times a bit unbelievably melodramatic (even for a teenager!) is someone many of us may have been at some point. A young person who believes that they are deeper and smarter and more deserving than those around them. She’s ungrateful and petulant, embarrassed by her parents, obsessed with the pursuit of love and excitement above all else. She feels like a real person.
Stephen Henderson (still with the shine on him from the Oscar-winning Fences) as Father Leviatch, the depressed drama teacher, packs an emotional and awkwardly funny punch.
Despite his stellar performance, I did feel like much of Father Leviatch’s story line could have been cut. We didn’t really see enough of him to really feel the impact of his experience. That said, his sudden departure is the point of entry for the football coach turned replacement drama teacher, Father Walther (Bob Stephenson), in a hysterical, almost absurdist role.
And then there’s Lucas Hedges (whom we fell in love with in Manchester By the Sea) as Danny O’Neill, whose character arc could be a movie in itself. You love him. You feel for him. You really want to know more about him.
One of the only issues I had with this film was that I felt it was kind of missing a more impactful score. Sure, the era-appropriate music such as Alanis Morisette and Dave Matthews Band grounds the movie in its time period (and also bring back so many memories!), but emotional scenes sometimes feel like they don’t have the power they could.
Lady Bird absolutely deserves the accolades heaped on it by reviewers. It’s the film many filmmakers wish they could make, and have tried to make unsuccessfully. Watching someone else’s pedestrian high school struggles sounds like a bore to most, and this movie is full of #firstworldproblems. But it doesn’t feel like that. Greta Gerwig has succeeded in creating something that was self-aware and respectful of most walks of life.