LADY BIRD (2017) Review: More than Just A High-School Film

Lady Bird

Have you ever seen a film that you felt like most of the things in the film was a totally been-there-done-that experience of your life? “Lady Bird” is that kind of film. Another coming-of-age indie film that achieves to be a shoo-in for this year’s award season, “Lady Bird” brings a very familiar sensation of growing up as a teenager, specifically as a high-school student applying for college, experiencing first love, and (especially) having a hard time with your mother.

Lady Bird is how our lead character (played so genuinely by Saoirse Ronan) prefer to call herself. She is a high-school senior of a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. She said the name “Lady Bird” is given by herself, to herself, and she just wants everyone to call her that way. The name kind of matches her personality, ‘though: she is adventurous, exuberant, carefree, yet so unwavering—especially regarding to her firm intention to apply to colleges away from her hometown. This is among several other things that often triggered quarrels with her mom (played by Laurie Metcalf), a typical working mom from a struggling family that always tries to take the lead and be hard on her kids—given that dad (played by Tracy Letts) is no longer supporting the family. The film takes a fragment of Lady Bird’s life in her last days of high school, as she enters adolescense and makes peace with her family, especially her mother.

Lady Bird

Watching “Lady Bird” is not like watching a fictional film. It feels real and close, and I think you can’t help but getting thrown back to your memories of high school. Small moments like hitting on your crush, having the first kiss, or losing a friend to get a new (and more popular) one, are probably the things that we remembered the most from our high school years. It’s funny, actually, because this is a premise that has already been executed over and over again by many films before. But somehow “Lady Bird” does it in its own way and punches us harder. 

I think the key why “Lady Bird” works better than any other films of similar premises is the way it approaches the theme. Maybe, from the outside, you think “Lady Bird” is merely a school teenager film. But in fact, it hardly even tries to keep on tracking our titular character’s daily life at school. That is why I think addressing “Lady Bird” as just “a high-school film” is degrading, because it obviously talks bigger than that. For me (and I guess most of us will agree), “Lady Bird” is actually more of a mother-daughter film. If you look closely, even the film itself starts and ends with a scene involving Lady Bird and her mom. The fragment of Lady Bird’s last days of high school is just a stage for her and her mom to bring out the complicated, love-hate relationship between them.

And this confusing relationship between Lady Bird and her mom will ultimately keep us all hooked through the film. Saoirse Ronan blended so sincerely, so genuinely, and so brutally into her character, while Laurie Metcalf fused into such a deeply conservative—and intractable, if I may say—mom who was at times tender and sweet. I personally think that the interactions between these two unlikely characters are the brightest spotlight of the film. My biggest kudos are for the two of them, while the rest of the cast also shines and makes for perhaps the best ensemble of the year.

Lady Bird

There might be several cultural differences, ‘though, that can make global audiences do not really feel into those been-there-done-that kinds of experience, but I think in a way or another we all get the idea. This is not the kind of film that heavily relies on its plot, because it offers more on the experience (so don’t worry for spoilers!). Many details in the film also tried to touch other aspects, like spirituality (since Lady Bird went to a Christian school), sexual encounters among teenagers (which involve Lady Bird’s “boyfriends”, played by Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet), and especially financial problems of middle-class family. These are all intended to show how deeply the screenplay observed the world it tries to create out of a schoolgirl’s seemingly simple life. And it succeeded so well.

Of course, it all went down to the mastermind working behind the scene. Our biggest congrats and gratitudes are ought to be delivered to Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the film. With “Lady Bird”, I think she has become a new icon of indie film industry in Hollywood. I personally find that sometimes I am not really head-over-heels to her works both as an actress and a filmmaker (I loved her leading performances in “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America”, ‘though, and I guess those are the only films that I know where I can see her leading, lol). But I’m pretty sure in the future she is going to be more under my watchlist radar (and yours too!). She really deserves to be acknowledged this year, she truly does.

Lady Bird

To conclude, “Lady Bird” is that one rare gem you probably won’t see coming in every year. A coming-of-age that stands out because of its sincerity and detailed observation of the characters, the interaction among them, and the feeling of growing up. I think “Lady Bird” also marks as one of the best mother-daughter film in recent years. It may seem like it’s just one of those films revolving around a teenager’s life, but it seriously isn’t.


Lady Bird

4 out of 5 stars

LADY BIRD
2017 / Comedy, Drama / 94 min / R

cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, et al.

written and directed by Greta Gerwig


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