Strictly a slice of late teenage life, Lionsgate’s Lady Bird skips, coasts and lightly cajoles with postcard pictures of Sacramento living set to an appropriately go-along-get-along score ingrained with wry mother-daughter, female best friend humor. This is all there is to Lady Bird, frankly. If you like static films such as Juno, Nebraska and almost anything with George Clooney, this film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, fits perfectly in that navel-gazing genre. It’s as plain as a piece of paper.
I could tell from the movie’s trailer and title, Lady Bird, that this would depict an ordinary life. For all indications of high school senior non-conformism, it does. I figured when I watched this on the new Blu-Ray edition that the leading lady would end up in a convent. Without giving major plot points away, it does show allegiance to religious habits, like a raunchy Judd Apatow film cloaking its dogmatic traditionalism. Lady Bird shows sharper bits of humor now and again. This owes chiefly to Saoirse (pronounced sir-shuh) Ronan (Brooklyn) and Laurie Metcalf as her mom. They deadpan clusters of witty lines.
Lady Bird is mildly cutting. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) plays a moody, paranoid misanthrope named Kyle. Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards…) appears as a charismatic theater classmate. Beanie Feldstein steals scenes as Lady Bird’s spunky best friend. Yet this is the story of the ugly, or, more accurately, the oddball duckling who “flies away home” to paraphrase the movie’s tag line. Lady Bird is, in this sense, the antithesis of 1955’s Marty, which depicts an ordinary individual choosing to break with tradition to be exceptional instead.
Beginning with a parent-child scene of crying to an audio book reading of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, it’s painfully dependent on audio to capture a mood or convey intended emotional impact or humor. The Sacramento-based tale takes place in 2002, which is also drummed into the movie over and again in pictures and sound. Lady Bird effectively recreates its post-9/11 time period’s cultural sameness, lack of outrage and complicity in following rules.
At first, it might seem that Lady Bird, an unexamined chosen name of the protagonist whose Catholic education includes a teacher whose favorite philosopher is Kierkegaard, rebels against the status quo. But, of course, this is not necessarily so. Lady Bird is about her struggle, choice and discovery. In a way, abiding by tradition or, viewed in the best light, realizing that rules are rules for a legitimate reason, is or can be its own form of rebellion. Lady Bird might’ve been about that. Except that it’s not. When she listens to Jagged Little Pill‘s “Hand in My Pocket” by mid-90s rock star Alanis Morissette, the girl comments on trivia about the song. Not the song.
The back and forth tension with her mother, best friends, boys and college prep officials — amid references to “bunker busters”, a high school musical and a depressed dad — passes the time but it is dull, too, until one of the more lively nuns instructs Lady Bird that love and paying attention are the same thing. This dubious piece of advice goes unchallenged and is followed by a trip to college, an airport climax and a final, drunken acting out until the predictable contrition. It’s not that Lady Bird isn’t about anything. It is. In being about an ordinary slice of teenage life, it might be about someone you know or depict something you recognize. It might pull at strings or push buttons, especially in a heartfelt prom scene. The push and pull, like being a rebel without a prom date, take a toll and make you end up feeling used and not in a way that nets significant rewards,
A director’s commentary track with cinematographer Sam Levy and 15-minute feature, Realizing Lady Bird, on the Blu-Ray edition of Lady Bird add to the movie with a focus on quirky Gerwig. The director’s goofy personality is on full display. She talks about the universality of everyone assuming that wherever they’re growing up is not the real world. She speaks about envisioning Ronan in the leading role only after this casting was put upon her, meeting Hedges at a movie festival, appreciating Metcalf as the mother and Tracy Letts (Indignation) as the father and being intimidated by Chalamet’s intelligence. Gerwig also discusses choices in filming her native Sacramento, cinematography and music. The feature, which is actress Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, better explains this plain, flat film.