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Saoirse Ronan is utterly delightful in writer/director Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, an offbeat story about a high school student on the edge of becoming her own person, the mother who cannot quite express what she is feeling and the events in life that push us one way and pull us another. Lady Bird speaks truth about more than a few universal experiences: going to high school, determining one’s identity and leaving home to name a few and does so in an often humorous, always loving fashion. It is very hard not to smile throughout the proceedings as Gerwig has structured a movie to assure us that each one of us will turn out okay in the end.
The Oscar nominated Saoirse Ronan is captivating as the alternately awkward, alternately confident, ever engaging title character. In her first scene in the movie, Lady Bird tells the audience that she has chosen for herself her own name and, with it we understand, she has put herself on a quest for claiming her identity. Watching her do so is a joyous experience. Something tells us, throughout the picture, that Lady Bird is going to be just fine.
Perhaps it is the love of her mother, Oscar nominated Laurie Metcalf in a terrific role, that reassures us. The interplay between Ronan and Metcalf is so good and so real that one might like them to play all the mother/daughter roles in the future. Metcalf’s is not a swing-for-the-fences, over-the-top performance. Her Marion is a character constructed from quiet moments, side long expressions, heartfelt pauses. It is as though Marion exists in between each scene and Metcalf is veteran enough – and confident enough – to get out of the way and let Ronan shine… not unlike a mother might for her daughter.
The movie hinges on the mother/daughter dynamic, to be sure, but Lady Bird explores love and support through any number of different avenues in the film. She has boyfriends, best friends, BEST friends, teachers and counselors and God. Each-and-every relationship in which she partakes feels genuine and real and the movie itself, for all the attempted histrionics of its main character, is firmly set in reality. It is comfortable and it is charming.
Lady Bird treats its audience as if it is smart enough to work things out on its own (like Miguel had to be adopted, right, and Lady Bird was a surprise to her parents – that much one can glimpse in a note). This is one of its strongest attributes. Though Gerwig’s message of acceptance and love comes clearly through, the movie does not spoon feed the audience, explaining Lady Bird’s every choice (and she makes some crazy choices) or every turn the movie. Rather the story plays out vignette by vignette and the tapestry of each of them is woven together all but seamless. It is an impressive directorial feat and Gerwig is a terrific Best Director nominee.
As affirming of life and love as almost any movie I have seen this year, Lady Bird distinguishes itself from almost any other movie set in high school of which I can think by unapologetically embracing the ideas that family is good, that there is a God, that life does not have it out for you, and that to be young does not mean one has to be painfully and self-consciously ironic. It celebrates the confusion, messiness and joy of a life lived to the fullest and we need more movies like it.
LADY BIRD receives FOUR AND A HALF UNCONSECRATED COMMUNION WAFERS CASTS out of a possible FIVE.