Being a teenager has never been easy, and filmmakers have been mining adolescent experiences for ages. So it’s easy to see how Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, could have been flat and predictable. In these sorts of films, it’s all about getting the emotional tone right. Thankfully, Gerwig hits all the right notes, and Lady Bird shines as a heartfelt tribute to teenage angst.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a nickname she gave herself. Lady Bird is as obnoxious as most 17-year-olds, self-obsessed and railing against restrictive parents. The film’s setting, 2002 Sacramento, becomes it’s own character, playing the stereotypical “lame hometown” to Lady Bird’s get-me-out-of-here attitude. Modeled on Gerwig’s own experiences, Lady Bird is in full on rebel mode, with home-dyed hair and onerous teenage acne. She moons over cute boys at school alongside her equally unpopular best friend while school counselors remark at her extremely average grades, surprised that she wants to escape her hometown for the cultural paradise that is the east coast.
It may sound like a cliche story, but it’s also incredibly relatable. Lady Bird feels trapped and babied by her mother, a role handled pitch-perfectly by Laurie Metcalfe. She yearns to be popular, to date boys, to be grown up already - a feeling most teenagers can relate to. Her and her mom fight like so many teens and their moms, full of well-meaning and misunderstandings. You can’t help but laugh as Lady Bird navigates a stuck-up private Catholic school, full of young people with too much money and too many hormones. Gerwig mines the humor in first kisses, first heartbreaks, and first sexual experiences with a light and generous touch, pointing out Lady Bird’s dramatics while emphasizing her naivety.
Lady Bird is a touching and pitch perfect look at growing up and how teenagers, so eager to leave the nest, have to make their own mistakes in order to appreciate what they have. It’s an incredible directorial debut for Greta Gerwig and amazing roles for Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe. Even with a glut of adolescent stories, Gerwig stays true to her experiences to create a heartfelt film.