'Lady Bird' is frisky and oddball, which is sometimes annoying and more often ingratiating

The adolescent coming-of-age pangs experienced by Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), to which we can all relate in some measure, are timeless and the movie is best when it undercuts its own seriousness

Merie Wallace/Courtesy of A24
Lucas Hedges and Saoirse Ronan star in 'Lady Bird.'

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, is frisky and oddball in ways that are sometimes annoying and more often ingratiating. Gerwig, who also wrote the semi-autobiographical script, pushes all the emotional buttons – laughter, tears, heartbreak, nostalgia – right on cue, like a hit Broadway show, but she does so in such a seemingly haphazard way that it’s easy to miss (and forgive) the middlebrow calculation behind it all.

Saoirse Ronan, who always graces the screen no matter what the role, plays the unruly Christine McPherson, who has given herself the nickname “Lady Bird” and can’t wait to finish out her senior year in a Roman Catholic high school in Sacramento, Calif., so she can flee to a fancy college on the East Coast.

Two problems with that plan: Her grades aren’t terribly good, and even if they were, her parents can’t afford it. Her father (Tracy Letts), a computer programmer, is depressed and out of work, and her mother (a very sharp Laurie Metcalf) works two shifts as a nurse. The best scenes in the film pit mother against daughter. Both are fiercely strong-willed and contentious; they go at it like longtime combatants who know each other’s every weakness. And yet beneath all the tumult, it’s clear they share an abiding love. It’s one of the more believable mother-daughter duets I’ve seen in a while at the movies.

The film is set in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and rather too much is made of that time frame. The adolescent coming-of-age pangs experienced by Lady Bird, to which we can all relate in some measure, are, after all, timeless. They don’t need the added gloss of historical import. The movie is best when it undercuts its own seriousness, as when Lady Bird's mother tells her, “I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be,” and then Lady Bird replies, “What if this is the best version?” Grade: B- (Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and teen partying.)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this review misattributed a quote from the film.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Lady Bird' is frisky and oddball, which is sometimes annoying and more often ingratiating
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today