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Lady Bird (2017)

I saw almost no press for this movie but people have been raving about it via social media and word of mouth. All the buzz about this movie is that it’s a good movie with lots of humor and some Oscar worthy performance. Despite all that, I gathered absolutely nothing about the subject matter of the movie. After seeing it for myself, I understand why…and I completely agree.

Recap

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a Sacramento teen entering her senior year of Catholic high school. She lives with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), her father, Larry (Tracy Letts) and her brother and his live-in girlfriend, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and Shelly Yuhan (Marielle Scott). Despite having a borderline average American family, Christine seems to be in a state of constant rebellion. She and her mother are always arguing about one thing or another. Most presently, it’s her insistence on being called “Lady Bird” and wanting to go to college on the east coast. The movie actually opens with Lady Bird and Marion having one of these arguments on the way back from a college scouting trip. The argument ends when Lady Bird throws herself from the moving car, resulting in her wearing a cast for the first half of the film.

The movie follows Lady Bird through her senior year of high school. We’re introduced to her best friend, Julie Steffans (Beanie Feldstein), who seems to be her only consistent point of social contact at the school. Wanting to fill out her extra-curricular activities, she decides to join the theater club. There she meets her crush and eventual boyfriend, Danny O’Neill (Lucas Hedges). Danny’s the perpetual lead of the theater club and also has the kind of life that Lady Bird dreams of. Lady Bird becomes more and more absorbed with Danny until she abruptly discovers that he’s gay (when she finds him making out with a dude in a bathroom stall) and promptly starts ignoring him.

Soon, Lady Bird decides to befriend the school’s resident mean girl, Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush). While hanging out with her more rebellious crowd, she meets her next boyfriend, the unnervingly pretentious Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet). While she’s with Kyle Lady Bird really seems to work hard to cut herself off from the people around her. She ignores Julie in favor of her new, “cooler” friends and starts to make some other bad life choices

Throughout all of this, she deals with an increasingly stressful home situation. Lady Bird just wants to live her life and move on to the next phase, but she has a hard time seeing how it affects the people around her. Lady Bird’s mother is the daughter of an abusive drunk, who’s just trying to do better at being a parent than her mother did despite being constantly made out to be the bad guy. Her father is depressed and has been fired from his job. This means that the family can’t even responsibly afford to send Lady Bird to an east coast college, let alone her applications. Lady Bird is only made aware of this after she’s already made unknowingly hurtful statements to her family. Still, her love for her family soften’s her attitude for a short time and her father goes behind her mother’s back in order to help his daughter achieve her dreams.

More than her boyfriends, it’s Lady Bird’s family and her relationship with her mother that defines her and the movie. Eventually, Lady Bird is wait listed at one of her east coast schools and her scheme is unwittingly revealed to her mother, leading her to not speak to her daughter for the rest of her time at home. After heading to New York and having a few rough nights, Lady Bird finds herself searching out familiar things from the home she longed to get away from. She finds a church to visit and calls her mother, to leave a message. She tells her mother about her experience of driving around Sacramento for the first time and realizing how much was there that she’d never noticed before. She tells her mother that she loves her before hanging up the phone.

Other Stuff

  • Lady Bird is one of the highest rated movies ever on Rotten Tomatoes. As of the time of this post, it’s overall score is 99% with a “Top Critics” rating of 100% and an audience rating of 84%.
  • This movie is set in the years 2002 – 2003 and it’s fully of early 2000’s nostalgia. That is, if you can be nostalgic about 15 years ago.
  • One of the best and most heartbreaking moments in the movie between Lady Bird and her mother happen when Lady Bird is trying on a dress for prom. She asks her mother if she likes her, to which her mother expectedly replies “Of course, I love you”. When Lady Bird responds, “..but do you like me” there is a moment when her mother seems to realize that the answer is “no” and looks horrified by the prospect.

What did I think?

This is the most quietly laugh-out-loud funny I’ve seen in a long time. The setting and the themes remind me a lot of last year’s hit, The Edge of Seventeen. Similar to that movie, it’s a coming of age story with a less than perfect protagonist and some stupendously awkward situations. However, this is a slightly more mature take with a larger array of characters and experiences. The tone of this movie is less like a deconstructed teen movie and more of a full fledged drama with characters that feel like caricatures of archetypes that have been brought to life and grounded in reality.

Lady Bird also benefits from some very clever writing and construction. The movie sprints it’s way through a bunch of different set-ups that are familiar to high school movies: crushes, boyfriends, proms, problems at home, families struggling with finances, abandoning your best friend to hang out with the popular kids, etc. Without fail, almost all of these things blow up in some uncomfortable or emotional way. The surprising part is that these situations are also being quietly used as the set-ups to jokes with the characters delivering succinct and clever punchlines (verbally and physically) out of almost nowhere. It’s the kind of experience that’s hard to really talk to someone about if they haven’t had the same experience.

There is so much to love about the characters in this movie. Even the characters I hated had a certain effectiveness to them (I’m looking at you Kyle). The one exception to that is Lady Bird’s brother, Miguel. He just completely gets lost in the shuffle of this story and only seems to be necessary in order to have a reason for Shelly to be there and let Lady Bird know her mother’s not as bad as she thinks. That could’ve easily been accomplished without Miguel existing.

But, I digress, let me get back to talking about all of the characters I liked. I guess I would have to start with Saoirse Ronan, who carries this entire movie. A close second would be Laurie Metcalf who absolutely shines as the put upon mother figure. Her chemistry with Ronan is great and is a big part of what makes the more mature actress passable as a teenager. Metcalf doesn’t exactly steal the show, but she is the perfect support to Ronan throughout the movie. I thought that the characters of both Kyle and Danny were great, in part, because you knew exactly who they were without having to be told. Conversely, Jenna and Julie were a bit more layered than their pretenses suggested. Jenna, in particular, turned out to be more than just a mean girl who was sleeping with a teacher. She was actually a caring person, in her own way.

All of these different characters, comedy and heart come together to form an expertly woven movie that immediately identifies with the experience of the Millenial-ish American teenager. It may not be the most exciting movie that comes out this year, but it really is one of the best crafted things that I’ve seen. It may be the perfect “coming of age” movie.

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017)
9.02

Story / Plot

9/10

    Characters

    9/10

      Visuals

      8/10

        Music / Audio

        9/10

          Entertainment

          10/10

            Pros

            • Subtly witty and funny
            • Gives the audience a lot of credit for their own intelligence
            • A coming of age story with maturity
            • Has very succinct and fleshed out characters
            • Great performances from Soairse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf

            Cons

            • Movie's pacing can feel a bit rushed and manic
            • Still has the same building blocks as a high school coming of age movie
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