Every once in a while – usually once or twice a year in my estimation – there comes a film so effortlessly charming that it renders film criticism essentially useless. Last year, I’d say this film was probably Moonlight, though La La Land felt like the easy-to-love critical hit of the year before its mild backlash and bizarre Oscar upset. Suffice it to say, Lady Bird is a film that as far as I know has been embraced by pretty much everyone who’s seen it. So I don’t know how useful or coherent this review will be, since I also am a victim of Lady Bird‘s abundant charms.
If there’s one thing you could lob against Lady Bird as some sort of key flaw, you could harp on it for not being the most original subject matter. After all, the coming-of-age teenage dramedy is a pretty well-worn subgenre at this point, but because Lady Bird tells such a specific story, I’m struggling to think of another film that quite feels like this one. In particular, it’s nice to see a film that from its opening Joan Didion quote, deconstructs the idea of how we think about California on film.
Because the fact of the matter is, there is a lot more to California than L.A. or San Francisco, as Lady Bird aims to capture the spirit of growing up in one of the major cities that typically get thrown under the rug when talking about the Golden State – Sacramento. I’ll admit that even though I spent my college years in Northern California, the closest I’ve ever gotten to Sacramento was merely driving through it on a long road trip, since it’s the kind of place that by its reputation seems like a city to which the question is often asked, “What the hell is there to do in Sacramento?”
As Lady Bird shows, there’s pretty much the same things for a teenage girl to do in Sacramento as in any other suburban-leaning city – driving in cars with boys, hanging out in thrift stores, getting high, and above all dwelling on the idea of someday getting the hell out. Christine (who goes by “Lady Bird”) sees college as her particular way out, and has her eyes set on a New York college, which she sees as the ultimate escape from her mundane family life. However, things are complicated by the fact that her dad (played by Tracy Letts) just lost his job and her mom (Laurie Metcalf) seems a bit too clingy to ever let this happen on her watch.
First of all, I think that in addition to the film’s lightly comedic mix of sweet and awkward, the performances are pitch perfect. Saoirse Ronan has consistently been an actress who has always chosen projects worthy of her talents, not unlike the film’s director, Greta Gerwig. Really, Lady Bird (the character) should come off as nothing more than a whiny brat, but the film clearly understands the uncomfortable complexities of being a teenage girl, and similarly, Gerwig has an enormous amount of affection for every character in this movie. And that can’t help but get transferred onto the viewer.
Meanwhile, of the many astutely observed relationships in the film, the pivotal one is between Lady Bird and her mother. As someone who grew up in a household where two women where the bigger, more clashing personalities in the family, the film rang very true to me. And since Terms of Endearment was the last movie to win an Oscar that had any sort of substantial scenes between women characters (30 fucking years ago!), I’ll be rooting for Lady Bird to win over Oscar voters this season, and hopeful also inspire them to pick up the phone and call their moms.