Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (Photo: A24)
***1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Greta Gerwig
STARS Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf
Coming-of-age movies can often feel as ubiquitous as superhero films, yet Lady Bird turns out to be one of those special efforts that manages to leapfrog over the competition with a single bound.
Although known primarily as an actress, Greta Gerwig has worked before as a writer and director, and here she devotes all her attention to those duties. This is the first time she doesn’t star in her own story – instead, the lead is Saoirse Ronan, delivering a performance that compares favorably to her smashing turn in 2015’s Oscar-nominated Brooklyn.
Set in Sacramento in 2002, the film orbits around Christine McPherson (Ronan), a high school student who prefers to go by the nickname “Lady Bird.” Like any normal teenager, Christine wants to be accepted by the popular kids and hopes to find love in the arms of a desirable classmate. These are Herculean challenges for almost any adolescent, but they’re even more difficult for someone as individualistic and uncompromising as Christine. Also adding to her woes is the testy relationship she shares with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), whose tough-love approach is often misinterpreted by Christine as outright disdain and disgust.
There isn’t much in Lady Bird that doesn’t feel recognizable from past films of this nature, but it’s Gerwig’s ability to make her protagonist’s struggles feel raw and real that allows this affecting film to soar.