Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson is a high school senior from the “wrong side of the tracks.” She longs for adventure, sophistication, and opportunity, but finds none of that in her Sacramento Catholic high school. LADY BIRD follows the title character’s senior year in high school, including her first romance, her participation in the school play, and most importantly, her applying for college.Nothing in the constantly funny and stunning coming-of-age film Lady Bird will surprise any audience. It’s all been played before: conflict with mom, loving dad, high-school romances, gawky and hip girl friends, amateurish school play, agony about college admission, and nuns who restrain and nuns who nurture.
She has indeed lived through “something” up to her waning adolescence, but as in the case of her hometown, Sacramento, she has to look back at it to see that she has lived there fully and uniquely. Right now, before graduation, the city is to her “the Midwest of California.” The real difference from other growing-up stories is first-time solo writer/director Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan (who plays Christine “Lady Bird “McPherson). Together they craft a lovable, flawed heroine with such a sense of herself and her future that she is unafraid to taste life in its entirety, blessed or broken. Forget Julia Stiles in 10 things I Hate About You. Bird is better.
As in most films where a young girl is taught in a Catholic high school, the nuns are the looming moral force for restraint and also dream, embodied in the principal, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith), a realist who knows Lady Bird is a creative and independent spirit. So, too, in a different way is Lady Bird’s mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), whose tough love is constant, but whose love is there if only Lady Bird would see it. Mom’s agony at the airport when Bird goes to college is as anguished a mom/daughter parting as you will ever see in a comedy.
Moments of humor are plentiful and low key, e.g., when Sister Sarah’s reality check with Lady Bird, “Math is not your strength,” is met with Bird’s “that we know of, yet.” While Mom’s realism is minute by minute, Sister Joan gives hers out slowly with equal portions of quiet love.