Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R – Language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying
I was eager to see this film, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason. Maybe it was the trumpeting accolades of a “fresh film” for a coming-of-age story. Or possibly that Saoirse Ronan was the lead. Perhaps it was the thrill of scenes in Sacramento on the big screen since I live relatively nearby. What I never expected was a story packed with so much realism about a daughter and mom. Sucker-punched. And, though it took a rough bounce in the morals department, Lady Bird ran away with my heart.
Violence/Scary Images: The movie opens with the main character throwing herself out of a moving car, but viewers don’t see where she lands.
Language/Crude Humor: The F-word is prevalent in the movie, clocking in around fifteen times. S*** takes a high second place, leaving A** and H*** still in use. God’s name is used in vain several times and as the punchline for a Catholic joke.
Spiritual Content: Though partially set in a Catholic school, this is not an innocent film. Lady Bird is rebellious to the institution, but the film doesn’t paint the priests or nuns in a bad light. She and a friend snack on communion wafers without thought. There are several scenes with Catholic prayers and rituals.
Sexual Content: This is about a teenage girl who is coming-of-age, so there are lots of sexual situations. She allows a boy to feel her breast, but he declines. Boys are found making out. Lady Bird loses her virginity—and finds out that it wasn’t as special to the boy as she thought it was as he replies, “You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.” And the coup de gras is when she turns eighteen and viewers get a glimpse of full frontal male nudity in the magazine she buys.
Drug/Alcohol References: Kids, including Lady Bird, smoke pot and get stoned. Lady Bird buys cigarettes on her 18th birthday. At one point, she gets drunk enough to throw up and falls over at a party. There is underage drinking at said parties. And her father takes anti-depressants after losing his job.
Positive Content: Love. There is an undercurrent throughout this movie between Lady Bird and her mother. Lady Bird, though quirky and mischievous, tends to see the good in things, before her demise. Even though Lady Bird makes mistakes, she remains loyal to those she loves.
This movie hit the theaters with the Sundance Film Festival’s stamp of approval, along with a pack of independent critic awards in 2017. TV actress Laurie Metcalf (from Roseann) bares her dramatic soul as the mom to the movie’s title Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by veteran Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement, Hanna). The film opens up in Sacramento, California circa 2002. Christine is a senior at a private Catholic school and has dreams of heading to a big-name college, far, far away from her overbearing and tightwad mother. At seventeen, she’s old enough to choose her own name and leave her small-town disappointments behind.
The brilliance in this film is the everydayness of a teenage girl and her mother. Lady Bird has “typical” teenage frustrations: her mom, high school friend drama, her mom, romance or lack thereof, her mom, finances to get to college, and her mom. Meanwhile, the “overbearing mom” Marion is just trying to keep it all passive-aggressively together after her son moves back in. She works double shifts as a nurse and her husband loses his job. Marion and Lady Bird dance their way through the school year, bickering, yet they return to one another for comfort. Marion does her best to be the mom and finds herself painted into a corner more often than not, depending on the swing of Lady Bird’s mood. In the end, Lady Bird, with the help of her quiet father, learns just how far her mother was willing to go for her daughter.
Saoirse Ronan is no freshman on the silver screen. As a child actress, she tossed viewers a swift kick with her turn in Atonement. Here in Lady Bird, she becomes a quintessential teenage girl on the verge of adulthood. She wraps the know-it-all of a near college student with the insecurities of a girl who is still trying to figure it all out…without messing up. Ronan perfects the character’s quirkiness without hampering the story. Laurie Metcalf’s portrayal of Marion McPherson is fascinating. The character is driven to provide for her family, constantly frustrated by the lack of money in their budget, and not afraid to remind her daughter that she is the mother, not the BFF. Metcalf is thousands of women who watch this movie and see themselves in her tired face, eyes full of love for the daughter they hope that life will turn out better for.
Filmed in Sacramento, which is in the part of northern California that boasts triple digit summers and mild winters, Greta Gerwig uses her own life to weave the area into the movie. The Sacramento River, along with specific landmark buildings, punctuate the screenplay, like a love letter to her time there.
Lady Bird is not a movie to watch for a soundtrack that will pull you back into 2002. In fact, most of the music is scored by Jon Brion. There are a handful of songs thrown in for nostalgia like Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band and Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake. This flick is all about the plot, with little focus on the music.
Saoirse Ronan is an actress I actively seek when she is cast. While I didn’t have a background with Laurie Metcalf, she was by far my favorite character—even over Lady Bird. I identified with both characters deeply. If you don’t mind being beaten about the head by swearing or a secular girl’s passage towards adult via exploring sex and drugs, you will be rewarded with the beautiful tale of an imperfect mom’s love for her imperfect daughter.
The Bottom Line