As much as I love strong character work in film, it’s sometimes difficult for me to be invested if there’s not much of a narrative to go along with it. This is especially evident in coming of age films. For me, coming of age films mostly need two key things to work: compelling characters and relatable themes. By design, most of them don’t have a whole lot going on in the plot department. They’re meant to realistically explore life and all of its nuances, exploring the many relationships we form with people and how they affect us along the way. If the characters are well fleshed out and memorable, great! But if I can’t completely relate to the themes of the film, I start having some problems. 

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is your typical angsty teenage girl going through her senior year of high school in 2002-2003. Sick of her boring life in Sacramento, she dreams of going off to a prestigious liberal arts school on the east coast. She’s lucky to have a caring and supporting father (Tracy Letts), but unfortunately for her, her mother Marion (Laure Metcalf) is all about tough love and reality checks. Sick of being held down by the authority of her parents, her Catholic school, and the overall world, Lady Bird embarks on a personal quest of finding out what person she truly wants to be. 

The tale of someone finding themselves is only as good as the actor portraying that individual, and Saoirse Ronan proves once again that she’s one of the finest young actresses working today. Gone is the optimistic, cheerful character from Brooklyn, and she’s full on cynicism here. Since she was there at one point in her life, she flawlessly pulls of the out of touch, immature teenage girl. She’s impetuous, emotional, illogical, and immature, but you completely understand why and how she feels that way. Just like any real teenager, she thinks she’s completely in the right and that the world is working against her. It’s not until she’s thrust into the real world to where she realizes exactly what she had. 

The strength of the film is how believable it all feels. From the dialogue, to the performances, to the production design, to the cinematography: it all felt very natural and immersive. Aside from some elements, you can tell that everything here came from a very personal place. The most personal, and the heart of the narrative, is Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mother. Their relationship felt very genuine, like they’ve really been putting up with each other’s different personalities for years. Laurie Metcalf conveys so many different emotions, where you can just see the disappointment in her eyes, but also the love she has for her daughter. Lady Bird‘s conversations with her loveable and meek father, sarcastic best friend, and various love interests feel just as natural and intimate. The dialogue felt incredibly natural and was often quite funny, but the dramatic lines hit as hard as they need to, as well. 

This is actress and screenwriter Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, and she guides you through Lady Bird‘s trials and tribulations with very assured direction. The film moves very fast, some scenes literally just being seconds long, but information is still conveyed and it all feels important. It’s really odd, though, because as fluid as the directing and editing were, I couldn’t help but find myself just a tad bored at times. Since this is a coming of age film, it’s more about the characters and themes, than the actual plot. Without a plot, or any real narrative thrust, my investment was slowly waning, especially during the last act. This all makes me wonder how much the enjoyment comes from one’s relatability to the themes. While watching this, I was occasionally thinking back to Manchester by the Sea, another film that is more about the characters rather than plot. I related to that film on many levels, which made the meandering nature of the film not seem so apparent. 

I think a lot of somebody’s enjoyment of Lady Bird will stem from how deep they can relate to the themes. I was an obnoxious teenager at one point too, and there were certainly some things I did relate to, but I wasn’t a girl, went to Catholic school, nor had a terrible mother, etc. I understood everything Gerwig was going for, but I sadly didn’t have much of an emotional response. Even then, true talent can’t be denied, and there’s plenty to be found throughout Lady Bird‘s journey. 


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