(2017) (Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf) (R)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Dramedy: A teenager yearns to get out of Sacramento all while contending with an overly critical mother, school matters, and raging hormones.
- Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (SAOIRSE RONAN) is a 17-year-old who lives in Sacramento with her overly critical mother, Marion (LAURIE METCALF), more supportive father, Larry (TRACY LETTS), adoptive brother, Miguel (JORDAN RODRIGUES), and his girlfriend, Shelly (MARIELLE SCOTT). Lady Bird hates living there, especially since she's not rich like fellow student Jenna Walton (ODEYA RUSH) and yearns to attend a college on the East Coast to get away from her mother, although that means she will miss her best friend, Julie Steffans (BEANIE FELDSTEIN).
Things look up when a nun encourages Lady Bird to try out for the school drama team, and it's there that she meets fellow student Danny (LUCAS HEDGES) and falls head over heels in love. When his hidden secret puts an end to that, she moves on to bohemian artist Kyle (TIMOTHEE CHALAMET), who's friends with Jenna, and soon Lady Bird is friends with her as well, much to the dismay of Julie. As the school year wears on, Lady Bird must contend with her rocky relationship with her mother, various school matters, and her own raging hormones.
- OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
- As film critics, we rarely see movie trailers before our screenings, unlike regular moviegoers who often have to sit through fifteen to twenty minutes of movie ads. Thus, I sometimes go into movies completely blind about every aspect of them, be that who's in front of and behind the camera, as well as what the story is even about.
Thus, when I sat down for our press screening of "Lady Bird," I assumed it was a biopic about the former first lady who graced the White House during the Johnson administration. That said, I did wonder what the cinematic odds were that we'd have two films about the famous Texas couple in just one month, what with Woody Harrelson already playing the title character in Rob Reiner's "LBJ."
Well, apparently those odds were long as this second film has absolutely nothing to do with the former Claudia Alta Taylor. Even so, as the story began and featured a mom (Laurie Metcalf) and her teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan) arguing in a car while driving along in 2002, I initially wondered how these two characters were connected to the former FLOTUS.
That is, until the teen, tired of bickering about college, opens the door and throws herself from the moving car. Now that's something I didn't see coming, but it sets the comedy tone of this coming of age tale that's been written and directed by actress turned filmmaker Greta Gerwig (who, coincidently enough, had a part in last year's first lady biopic flick "Jackie").
What's remarkable about the film is that it takes a story and related subject matter that we've seen countless times before -- a teenager and her mom don't get along (while the dad -- played by Tracy Letts is more supportive), she then rebels and acts out in various ways, dumps her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) for a cooler friend (Odeya Rush), loses her virginity to a guy (Timothee Chalamet) in a moment she'll later regret in life, plots her escape to college across the country, and so on -- and makes it all feels fresh and interesting.
Much of that success obviously stems from Gerwig's terrific screenplay, but it's Ronan who takes the material and thus the film and makes it her own. Believably playing below her real age (23), the young actress has yet to fail to impress in her various and varied outings. That trend continues here in a not always likable but nonetheless usually sympathetic and certainly intriguing character. I wouldn't be surprised if she gets some love come movie award nomination time.
Which should also hold true for Metcalf in the supporting actress category playing her overly critical mom. Those are often thankless roles to inhabit and can wrong in so many ways from a writing and/or performance perspective. But the actress nails the part of a woman who loves and wants to protect her daughter, but can't find the right words or ways to show that.
Gerwig thankfully prevents that toxic relationship and related bickering and other negativity from dragging down the offering into something uncomfortable to watch. And she mainly does that through the use of nicely layered bits of humor, some of which stem from the characters and the situation, and others that just add icing to the cake (my favorite being the football coach who's been tapped to take over directing a school play and does so in a funny gridiron fashion).
In the end, I was glad the film focused on the self-named adolescent protagonist and her tumultuous teenage life rather than the real-world public figure who preceded her by several decades. "Lady Bird" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.
Reviewed October 17, 2017 / Posted November 17, 2017
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