In a year where we, as an audience, have been treated to some spectacular directorial debuts in the form of Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out and Tyler Sheridan’s thriller Wind River, it is only suitable that the next big name directorial debut is also an incredible work of art.
Lady Bird premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on Sept. 1. Immediately afterwards, Twitter lit up. Praise came from everyone, giving Greta Gerwig — star of Frances Ha and Mistress America — immense props for her screenplay and direction, as well as love for Saoirse Ronan’s performance as the titular Lady Bird.
As a fan of Gerwig’s films (Frances Ha is one of my all-time favorites), my excitement for this film was through the roof. Luckily, over the holidays I was able to hit up my local indie-film theater and watch the best film of 2017.
Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson through her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, Calif. Lady Bird’s biggest desire is to go to a college on the east coast, where “culture” can be found.
However, her family’s financial situation makes it difficult for her dream to come true. Additionally, Lady Bird’s grades make it highly unlikely she’ll be accepted to college.
We get to see Lady Bird go through a variety of emotional experiences throughout the school year: her first heartbreak, her first time having sex and her search for her own identity. All of this occurs in a collision course with her mother, who is constantly at odds with Lady Bird.
In what can only be described as an all too real, visceral performance from Laurie Metcalf, who plays Mrs. McPherson, an already fantastic performance from Ronan is elevated to a whole different level. The frustrations, the love and the inevitable sadness that comes with being the parent of someone who comes off as ungrateful are all beautifully portrayed by Metcalf, allowing the audience to empathize with her.
The rest of the young cast is not to be left behind. Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) plays Danny O’Neill, the theater kid who Lady Bird first falls for. Hedges gets a chance to show his range in this film, where, similarly to Ronan, he plays a character who is struggling with his own identity. He does a fantastic job and serves as an indirect foil to Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet, who plays Kyle Scheible.
Kyle is effortlessly cool, something that Chalamet’s natural charisma only augments. He’s the guy who can say “that’s hella tight” with a straight face. Never seen without his copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Chalamet’s character feels like the kid in high school who thinks that the only problems that matter are the ones that affect the world as a whole. It’s a piece of commentary that tells us that it’s okay to focus on our own problems before we start worrying about the world’s.
Rounding out the young cast is Beanie Feldstein who plays Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie. Her relationship with Lady Bird, as the latter tries to play up to her rich boyfriend — the aforementioned Kyle — and his friends, may become strained, but such a strong a bond can’t be easily broken.
It’s these things that make Lady Bird such a powerful, relatable film. Gerwig doesn’t shy away from the familiar coming of age tropes; she embraces them and executes them with such precision that you marvel at them. The dialogue throughout the film doesn’t feel wasteful or artificial. The emotional beats all feel earned, and the soundtrack elevates these moments.
Featuring perhaps the best use of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” (which Gerwig secured via an endearing personal letter to Timberlake himself) and songs from the Dave Matthews Band, the soundtrack accentuates certain scenes and reminds you how “high school” all of it really is.
That is up until the final minutes of the film, in which we get to experience Lady Bird’s first days at college. This is also incredibly familiar. It’s a place that’s entirely different for our main character and one that causes her to gravitate to the things she knows the best.
I’m sure that this experience won’t only resonate with people our age, but is also the exact situation some of us found ourselves in. Who’s music taste hasn’t been picked apart by a random stranger you met on a night out?
The film is an apology of sorts to our parents, particularly to our mothers, the ones who have to deal with all of the shit that we do throughout high school. They frustrate us, but they love us, or at least they say they do.
A huge insecurity at that age, at least with respect to our parents, is perfectly illustrated with one piece of dialogue: “Do you like me?” It’s a relatable question. At an age when you want to forget the past but are fearful of what the future holds, you want to make sure that the people you love aren’t hurt by your actions.
The scene is one of the most subtly emotional parts of the film, one that isn’t afraid to show emotions in a bombastic way.
Gerwig’s directorial debut is perfect in every way. She captures the feeling of being a female teenager on the verge of adulthood in ways that haven’t been seen before. She shows us that she has a strong grasp of both humor and drama.
Gerwig’s collaborations with filmmaker Noah Baumbach have only refined her skills, and I hope she gets more opportunities to be creative in Hollywood. As for Lady Bird, catch it grabbing an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture (among others) in a year featuring many strong independent films.