Coming-of-age films can be a dime a dozen. Whether they take the form of a John Hughes movie like Sixteen Candles, feature an ensemble cast such as Stand by Me or push genre boundaries into something like Boyhood, we’ve seen them done many times before.
So many that, while they’re enjoyable and all, it can be hard to think of a new way to approach said subject matter.
That’s where Greta Gerwig comes along — star of several indie films like Frances Ha, Mistress America and 20th Century Women, showing us her unique take on the genre with her directorial debut of Lady Bird.
Lady Bird is not Christine’s (Saoirse Ronan) given name. It, instead, is the name she decided to give herself because she didn’t the one her parents picked out for her. This type of rebellion is something relatively common for Christine — she loves her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), and all but the two have a hard time getting along.
Her father, Larry (Tracy Letts), says this is because both Christine and Marion have strong personalities — so strong, that they aren’t always compatible. Christine doesn’t necessarily disagree, but she’s got so much on her plate that she’s not exactly keen to sit down and figure it all out.
For starters, there’s the issue of college. Christine is graduating from a small, Catholic high school located in Sacramento at the end of this year, and can’t wait to leave. If she can have it her way, she’ll be out on the east coast and as far away from this city as possible. Money, however, is a big issue for the family and it’s all going to hinge on how much help she gets financial aid.
Then there’s the issue of relationships — in which Christine somewhat struggles. While she has her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, who is Jonah Hill’s younger sister) to keep her company, Christine is looking for a male companion to spend time with as well.
However, this brings a gap between Christine and Julie, as Christine — more often than not — is willing to change her personality and appearance in order to fit in with a certain crowd or type of people.
The film is set over the course of a year, as we watch Christine grow and develop, figuring out what kind of person she wants to be and such.
Lady Bird contains certain elements we’ve seen done before in other coming-of-age movies — most notably, Edge of Seventeen comes to mind. Yet, Gerwig’s direction is so fiercely defined that it feels fresh and new. Nothing in Lady Bird feels like it comes from a script or Hollywood. Everything is authentic and holds echoes of real life, so much to the point where it feels like this is a documentary with real characters.
Gerwig is able to achieve that through her use of characters and performances. Everyone, to a point, is a flawed character. Christine is our main protagonist, but that doesn’t mean she’s always in the right. In fact, we watch her mess up time and time again, but it’s through these mistakes that we eventually see her learn.
The supporting characters, as well, are also given levels of humanity. Laurie Metcalf gives an incredible performance, and some of the most interesting moments of conflict in the film come out of the relationship between Christine and her mother. On the flip-side, Tracy Letts is the much more gentle parental figure, but he’s also dealing with his own issues throughout the film.
Even the boyfriends — played by quite well Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) — don’t exist just for the purpose of helping Christine along their journey. Gerwig defines them all clearly, giving them their own struggles and shortcomings, as they travel down their own paths.
While Gerwig may primarily be a director who focuses on performances, given her background in acting, she also makes the effort to bring in certain levels of visual storytelling as well. She also wrote the film and, while not flawless (the third act felt just a tad bit rushed), her talents shine on that realm as well.
Lady Bird is a remarkable film that’s well worth the price of admission for several reasons — it has some incredible performances, not the least of which comes from Ronan, who is bound to get nominated for this role. It’s now, officially, the highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes as it sits at 100% with 185 reviews. And it’s intimate, it’s sad and it’ll make you feel something, as a movie should do. Be on the lookout for this one more and more come awards season.
Watch the trailer for Lady Bird below and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below.
Coming-of-age done right: 'Lady Bird' review10