It seems like every year we get at least one indie comedy that ever so masterfully taps into the teenage mindset. In 2015 it was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, in 2016 it was The Edge of Seventeen, and this year it’s definitely Lady Bird. It’s amazing how oversaturated this genre has become since the days of John Hughes, but the talent both behind and in front of the camera somehow manages to keep these familiar themes fresh. Lady Bird in particular is really nothing new when you break down its plot. The way its story and characters are presented, however, makes for an utterly unique experience.
From Frances Ha, to Maggie’s Plan, to 20th Century Women, Greta Gerwig has a habit of playing women that seem so confident on the outside while being so lost on the inside. If she were about a decade younger, Gerwig probably would’ve cast herself in Lady Bird, which she both wrote and directed. Of course Gerwig finds an equally capable leading lady in Saoirse Ronan, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in another coming-of-age story called Brooklyn. Where Ronan’s role in that film was very understated, her character here leaps off the screen with flare. It’s unbelievable that Ronan has played two so distinctively different characters before even turning 25.
Gerwig’s script takes place shortly after September 11, 2001. Although the world around her is changing significantly, teenager Christine McPherson is too wrapped up in her own little world to really notice. Like many teenagers, Christine wants the spotlight to be on her whenever she walks into a room. She even asks people to start referring to her as Lady Bird, as to call more attention to herself. The film follows Christine throughout her senior year at Catholic school as she applies to colleges, hangs out with friends, a butts heads with her mother, played by the invaluable Laurie Metcalf. That might sound pretty straightforward, but like The Florida Project, Lady Bird demonstrates that sometimes the simplest movies are the most relatable.
Part of what makes Christine such an identifiable protagonist is that she actually looks like an average teenage girl. Her hair dye job likely wasn’t done by a professional and her face has some mild acne, which is rarely seen in the glamorized realm of cinema. It’s what’s on the inside that really counts, though, and Christine will speak to any young adult that’s had their high expectations shattered by disappointment. As charismatic as Christine is, she’s constantly trying to find herself and coming up short. There’s an empty space inside her and it appears nothing can fill it.
Christine thinks she’ll find purpose by participating in the school play, but can’t be content with merely being a chorus member. She assumes hanging out with the cool kids will make her happy, but is left feeling lonelier than ever. Above all else, she’s convinced that leaving her family and hometown behind to attend an out-of-state college will solve all of her problems. Once Christine’s old life is in a rearview mirror, however, the comfort of nostalgia calls her back. It’s often said that teenagers just want to be grown up and adults just want to be young again. Few films understand this as well as Lady Bird.
Gerwig has not only made a great coming-of-age story, but an honest film about human nature. Ronan additionally brings significant depth to a character that could’ve come off as bratty or ungrateful. Between her empathetic performance and Gerwig’s frank filmmaking skills, though, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a name we’ll always remember.