SPOILER ALERT: I will discuss some aspects of the film's characters and plot. I will try to stay away from any overt spoilers, but if you'd prefer to see the film unhindered from the viewpoints of someone else, I encourage you to see it first before reading this review.
One lesson that I have to continually keep learning is that I should come to a piece of art ready to receive whatever it has to give me. Too often I try to incessantly plumb for meaning rather than simply experiencing what the piece has to offer. Or, as was the case with my first viewing of Lady Bird, I come to the piece with lofty expectations that are unfair.
None of that is to say that Lady Bird is a subpar film in any way. I found it to be endlessly charming and a smartly funny and entertaining film. But I had certainly given in to the "best-reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes" hype a little too much, I think. I would definitely like to watch this movie again with more of an open heart and mind - something I encourage everyone to do.
If you do so, as unencumbered from the hype as you can, I'm not sure there's a way to say Lady Bird is anything other than a supremely enjoyable experience. I think the praise for that mostly rests on the shoulders of three women.
First and foremost, I think it is clear that Greta Gerwig is one of the most exciting up-and-coming talents we have today. Her work on this film is fantastic - the movie is extremely well-written, and it is keenly self-aware. Visually and narratively, it is very well-structured. And it approaches the teenage coming-of-age story in ways that are refreshingly different than most films of that genre. Gerwig is deserving of all the praise she has received for the film, and she is a supremely-gifted artist. Speaking of supremely-gifted artists...
Saoirse Ronan is 23 years-old, and she already has to be considered one of the best actresses working today. It kind of makes me wonder what I've done with my 25 years of life. Seriously though, Ronan is fantastic as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson. She handles the fine line of her character's clear independence and simultaneous "feeling-out" of her own youthful identity. Ronan does a great deal with pauses and reactions - more than most actors do with a full line of dialogue. But, while hers is the best acting performance in this film, it is certainly not the only one worthy of praise...
Laurie Metcalf is absolutely fantastic as Lady Bird's mother, Marion. She has a hard exterior, but she allows for moments of tenderness, especially near the film's end. The mother/daughter relationship is the core of the film, and Ronan and Metcalf navigate it perfectly. This film is what it is thanks to the fascinating work of its talented triumverate.
While Lady Bird's given name is Christine, she demands that everyone call her by her chosen moniker. There is no connection to the former First Lady anywhere that I can see, and we're not really told how the name came about. She wants to get away from Sacremento, as she is sure that nothing of importance happens there. Maybe it was just that I watched the two movies so close together, but I felt like the way the idea of home is investigated here bears some resemblance to that of another 2017 movie - Columbus. In any case, Lady Bird wants to go to a prestigious East Coast college, but her parents don't think they can afford it. Concurrent with the main themes of identity and family relationships runs a supporting theme of socioeconomic differences and how they impact culture. At one point, Ronan jokes to a love interest named Danny (played by the wildly-talented Lucas Hedges) that she is from the "wrong side of the tracks." She actually does live across a set of train tracks, but the metaphor goes deeper than that, too. When her father (played by Tracy Letts) loses his job, the financial strain on the family seeps into all areas of Lady Bird's life.
The film is a taut 94 minutes. As I said before, as a narrative, it is completely sure of itself and where it wants to go in that runtime. The genius of it is that Lady Bird the character, though she puts off an independent persona, is unsure of herself like we all were at that age - like we all still are! That search for identity makes this movie utterly relatable.
On top of that, it is extremely funny as well. Ronan provides a great deal of laughs, but some of the funniest moments come from Lady Bird's best friend, Julie (played by Beanie Feldstein, sister of Jonah Hill). This movie is also very smart in how it structures the story. Many coming-of-age films place the main focus on teenage relationships. We get those stories here too - first in the relationship with Danny, then with the emotionally-muted Kyle (played by the equally-talented Timothee Chalamet). However, these are just parts of the story as a whole - not the main focus.
As I left the theater, I didn't feel that anything earth-shattering had happened. Please hear me when I say that that is more a critique of my own over-hyping heading into the film, and not a comment on the film itself. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this film had done something astounding by focusing so much on these characters and the "small" moments of their lives. I really felt for these characters as the emotional closing commenced. That in and of itself is a testament to how wonderfully this cast and crew brought Gerwig's powerful vision to life.
My advice - go see this film without considering anything from Rotten Tomatoes or where it might end up in your or anyone else's "year end list." Just go see this film. Experience it. Be a part of it. It's a supremely enjoyable movie. At the same time, I think it has a lot of interesting things to say as well. It tells a relatable story in a unique way, and it does so with particular consideration of craft and storytelling. All in all, I think it is clearly one of the year's best films. But don't take my word for it - go experience that for yourself.
Note on content: There is profanity in this film, as well as sexual dialogue from time to time. There is one overt sex scene, but it does not contain any nudity. The only overt nudity in the film is when a character looks through a Playgirl magazine and frontal male nudity is shown. There is also one somewhat unexpected scene where a character throws herself out of the car, but no blood or injury is shown.