A student's last year of high school brings many changes. Many of the events are met with indifference, apprehension, or tension. As her senior year begins in Lady Bird, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) gets in an argument with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) over various things, including Christine's insistence that Marion call her by her self-chosen nickname, Lady Bird. Marion also wants her daughter to stay in state when she goes to college, but Lady Bird wants to attend an East Coast university. The family struggles to make ends meet, as Marion's husband Larry (Tracy Letts) was laid off from his job. Even though their adopted son Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) has a college degree, he still lives at home and works in a supermarket. Even her peer relationships get strained. During the school's fall show, Christine finds herself attracted to Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges). That ends when she catches him kissing another boy, though she agrees to let Danny keep his sexuality a secret.
When Christine decides not to be in the spring show, she finds herself at a distance from her childhood friend, Jenny Steffans (Beanie Feldstein). Christine then starts hanging out with a couple of peers she's admired. Jenny Walton (Odeya Rush) always had made trouble for the nuns in the school they attended with her pushing the boundaries on the school's dress code. Christine, however, lies to impress Jenna. Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet) plays guitar and enjoys hanging out with her. Kyle even asks Christina to the prom, but changes his mind about attending on the way. Meanwhile, Christine waits to hear from a New York university that has put her on their waiting list. In spite of still looking for work, Larry offers a plan to pay for Christine's college education should she be accepted.
The events of Lady Bird take place in 2002 and 2003, and are based on the actual experiences of writer-director Greta Gerwig, in her first solo outing behind the camera. Unlike the films Frances Ha and Mistress America, which Gerwig wrote and Noah Baumbach directed, Gerwig has characters who aren't one note. Perhaps Gerwig drew inspiration form Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories to tell a story based on family history. I can identify with the Catholic school environment Gerwig presents very well, as I spent most of my pre-college years in such schools. Gerwig brings these characters to life with great humor and heartbreak. The tension between the idealistic Christine and the practical-minded Marion seldom relents, even as the film heads toward its finish. Lady Bird is a breakthrough moment in Gerwig's career, and I hope this moment isn't a singular one for her. This is the best adolescent film I've seen since The Spectacular Now.
Gerwig has assembled an ensemble in some of their best work, especially from Ronan and Metcalf. Ronan brings out all the ups and downs of being a teenager as Christine, who prefers the name she has chosen for herself. She makes good decisions, bad decisions, and even hopeful ones. One of my favorite moments comes when she puts a "Just Married To Jesus" sign on the car of Sister Sara Joan (Lois Smith), and the unexpected response from the nun. Metcalf is better known for her work on TV (Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory) does marvelous work as Marion, the supportive, yet worried mother who suddenly finds herself the family breadwinner. Her practical arguments might register with Christine, but they don't resonate with her daughter. The rest of the cast delivers strong performances, including Stephen McKinley Harrison as Father Leviatch, the drama club director dealing with some issues of his own, and Marielle Scott as Shelly Yuhan, Miguel's supportive girlfriend.
I remember what it was like for me to go to college, and Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson had it easy by comparison. My parents expected me to go, but they didn't have the means to pay for a penny of it. I financed school with a job, and eventually got a diploma. Lady Bird shows a teenager who wanted more than her parents expected, and simply wasn't satisfied with the prospects they offered. Christine wanted to fly, and see how far her dreams could take her. With any luck, she has found the right balance between her flying and the ground.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Lady Bird 3.5 stars. Preparing to leave the nest.