‘Lady Bird,’ a well-directed coming of age story


“Lady Bird” is the highly acclaimed YA (Young Adult) drama doing just poorly enough at the box office to generate serious Oscar buzz. No, we don’t understand the logic either, but mainstream entertainment must be for the common folk, while these little gems receive endless accolades from the industry and serious movie enthusiasts.

Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan stars as high school senior Christina MacPherson, who insists on being called “Lady Bird.” This has no reference to the former first lady; it’s just a way of establishing her own identity. This is the semi-autobiographical account of actress Greta Gerwig, in her first solo outing as writer and director.

Gerwig was born in Sacramento, her parents were a nurse and computer programmer, she attended an all-girls Catholic high school, studied musical theater and went on to study in New York. Maybe we could drop the “semi,” it’s autobiographical. Gerwig shares some odd high school related anecdotes filled with more pain and regret than humor. For some (most?), this overwhelming transitional period is more applicable than not.

Lady Bird is from the wrong side of the tracks. Her parents are struggling to make ends meet. She clashes with her mom over just about everything but has a solid relationship with dear old dad. Although she’s physically and socially awkward and finds academics a challenge, something inside her knows that a bright future must be elsewhere.

Not unlike many high schoolers, Lady Bird feels displaced. She hopes for a lifestyle with new opportunities and a place to spread her wings. Although she’s not sure where, she knows it’s not at home, “I hate California, I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is like, New York or Connecticut or New Hampshire.”

Given her state of immaturity, Lady Bird’s energy bounces her off the walls along the way. At this age, it’s not uncommon to feel the world is against you, but at times, Lady Bird is against the world. She disses her best friend, “decorates” the nun’s car and defiantly snacks on Holy Communion wafers.

There is some honesty within her protests, where the audience is supposed to instinctively nod, “How true,” but then she shamelessly disrespects a pro-life speaker, “If your parents would have aborted you, we wouldn’t have to be listening to all this.” No matter what your political view, her actions come across as smug and mean-spirited.

Most issues are with her mom, played to the hilt by Laurie Metcalf. It’s not that they don’t like each other, but don’t understand each other. Worse yet, neither makes an attempt to do so. Ok, that’s not too far from typical, but here, they take it to the extreme. Being this story is autobiographical; it helps explain some of her issues and actions.

Gerwig’s initial 350-page draft would have taken six hours to film. She must have had a lot on her mind. There are some that fully identify with Lady Bird, which may be why the movie received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t get us wrong, we celebrate average people who emerge from the doldrums, take on the world and achieve their lofty ambitions. We just couldn’t identify with this specific character.

“Lady Bird” is a long 94 minutes and rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying. This movie is well acted and directed but we’ve seen all this before. An awkward teen tries to fit in, experiences her first romance and applies to college. Give credit to a more current level of authenticity for a target audience that just wasn’t us.

Lady Bird is condescending but can be clever when she grumbles, “Sacramento is like the mid-west to California.” What we didn’t get was pseudo-momentous proclamations, such as “People go by the names their parents give them, but they don’t believe in God.” There was a pause for the audience to soak in this poignant insight. Like the rest of the movie, we carefully considered it, judiciously weighed it and concluded, “meh.”

Ron’s Rating: C Leigh’s Rating: C


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Ron and Leigh Martel