Lady Bird review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Lady Bird is easily one of the most adorable coming-of-age teen dramedies simply for how every character feels like a human being and not an obstacle. We could expect that much dimension from our titular teen, but it’s surprising to see this much genuine character out of the mother, father, teachers, principals, and even the fat friend. It’s the type of film where you just want to give everyone in it a big hug, ensuring them that they’re doing the best they can when life seems daunting.
It’s for this reason why Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) never feels like a bad apple with her troublemaker tendencies. The principal of her Catholic school knows this and treats her more with an understanding smile whenever Lady Bird is called down to her office; even the principal can delight in the rather innocent prank of the student decorating the back of her car with “Just Married to Jesus.” Lady Bird has grand ambitions for her future. She wants to go to a college in New York, but her terrified mother (Laurie Metcalf) pushes her away from such ideas. Her father (Tracy Letts) is less of a fighter but secretly tries to help his daughter for her sake.
While she tries to make it into her desired college behind her mother’s back, she kicks back with her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), hanging out in between classes to talk about drama club and the tantalizing prospect of losing virginity. While Julie fancies her math teacher, Lady Bird’s crush is a bad boy played by Timothee Chalamet. We already know he’ll break her heart but watch her flying towards this mistake as all youth do when her lies of college applications and home address come to bite back. That’s what you get in a John Hughes style drama that wraps you in the warm embrace of likable characters and then tears them down for the colder clasp of life.
Every corner of Lady Bird holds some pocket of humanity and love. The best example of this is with the drama teacher of the Catholic school, played by the effortlessly charming Stephen Henderson. He seems so full of humor and understanding, which we soon learn through small clues is a mask for his deeper sadness of losing faith in one’s self. To prep his class, he plays an acting exercise of trying to make yourself cry and seeing who can do it first. He wins every time.
The film is rather short for its material but makes great use of its time. There are small scenes which zip by quickly and still paint a profound picture of Lady Bird’s life. On the day she turns 18, she stops by a convenience store to celebrate. She buys a pack of cigarettes, lottery ticket, and a pornographic magazine. She notes to the clerk that she just turned 18 and he’s not as enthused. Cut to her smoking and reading porno in the parking lot, a brief and to-the-point moment of adolescence and growing up, all within a scene that’s less than a minute long.
Lady Bird’s story takes place in 2002 but it’s a tale so relatable in its characters and emotions it could easily have been told a decade later. Greta Gerwig’s spot-on direction resonates well enough that teenagers and parents alike can relate to the plight of a teenage girl growing up in the most awkward, tough, and exciting of times. It belongs among the ranks of such films as “Pretty in Pink” and “Adventureland” that treat adulthood with real drama and great fun.