PFF26: Lady Bird

Lady Bird soars, thanks to first-time solo director Greta Gerwig’s thoughtful vision and an impressive ensemble cast.

Lady Bird tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a prickly Sacramento high school senior who names herself “Lady Bird” in an attempt to get away from her overbearing mother (Laurie Metcalf). “Lady Bird” is restless to leave behind her seemingly provincial life in the California suburbs for liberal arts schools on the East Coast—”New York, or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire”—but she isn’t quite through with high school yet. Lady Bird follows her journey through senior year, as “Lady Bird” struggles with best friend drama, losing her virginity, prom, and her contentious relationship with her mother.

Director Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut, imbues the material with an endless supply of empathy for her characters and for the film’s lived-in Sacramento setting. “Lady Bird” is not unlike Gerwig’s characters in Frances Ha or Mistress America, which Gerwig starred in and co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. She makes impulsive decisions and can often come across as being irritating, even for the people who love her and want her to succeed. But Gerwig does not cast judgment upon her, nor does she upon any of her characters in the film. Gerwig’s empathy in Lady Bird shines everywhere, and to everyone.

Lady Bird might be dismissed as another coming-of-age tale, as The Edge of Seventeenand 20th Century Women, also excellent, seemed to be last year. But the film transcends its modest ambitions and slight 93 minute runtime thanks in part to its impressive ensemble cast.

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deliver two of the year’s strongest performances, capturing the film’s central mother-daughter relationship with heartbreaking accuracy. Gerwig called Lady Bird a “letting-go story” during a press conference at this year’s New York Film Festival, and she manages to vindicate both sides of the relationship, even when they are a bit exasperating at times.

Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea and the upcoming Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Timothée Chalamet (also in Call Me By Your Name and Hostiles this year), Lois Smith, and Stephen Henderson also round out the ensemble.

Lady Bird will open in limited release on November 3.

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