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Lady Bird: A Review


My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars


Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is the story of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a high school senior living in Sacramento, who struggles through a tumultuous relationship with her mother. Saoirse Ronan stars as "Lady Bird" and Laurie Metcalf plays her mother Marion. 

Lady Bird is a film of many contradictions. The film seems like it wants to be a quirky, independent, art house movie but in execution it ends up being a rather conventional, paint by numbers, pixie-dream girl coming of age story. 

Another contradiction is that the film boasts a truly superb performance from its luminous lead actress Saoirse Ronan, but because of a tepid script and weak direction, the movie never lives up to the great work Ronan does in it.

Lady Bird is actress Greta Gerwig's first feature film as a writer/director and her filmmaking inexperience definitely shows in her attempt to make a sort of backhanded homage to her hometown and her mother. The film suffers from a lack of cinematic and dramatic focus and very poor pacing, which made what should have been a very agreeable hour and a half running time seem considerably longer and much less agreeable. 

The movie is also riddled with too many cheap, easy and predictable laughs, so much so that at times it felt more like a network sitcom and less like a character study driven feature film. 

The heart and soul of Lady Bird is Saoirse Ronan, whose acting is flawless as she is totally absorbed into her role. Ronan perfectly embodies the frustration, isolation, and desperation of being a free spirit trapped in a city, Sacramento, and a family, that are suffocating her. Ronan effortlessly dances from one of her character's multiple incarnations to the next and never stops being completely comfortable with her adolescent discomfort. 

Saoirse Ronan is simply one of the best actresses working in film right now. While Lady Bird is not a great film, Ronan's performance in it certainly is, and it is a testament to her talent and skill that she is able to elevate her performance above such middling material and reach such transcendent acting heights. 

As for the rest of the cast, overall I actually found them lacking. Laurie Metcalf has a meaty role as Lady Bird's abrasive mother but I felt she just missed the mark because her performance lacked enough nuance for my liking. I think the major issue with Metcalf's performance was that her role was not very well written and left her in a bit of a box in terms of her acting choices. 

The other supporting actors are a mixed bag. Tracy Letts gives a solid performance as Lady Bird's down on his luck father. Letts brings a genuine humanity to all of his work and it played well in contrast to Lady Bird's chaotic teenage fervor. 

On the down side, Lucas Hedges gives a pretty stale and wooden performance as Lady Bird's boyfriend. Hedges, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar last year for his work in Manchester by the Sea, never fully commits to his role in Lady Bird and is overmatched and left in the dust by Ronan's searing performance.

To the film's credit, Lady Bird does a good job of revealing the often overlooked difficulty of middle class poverty on America. It also shows teenagers as being much less depraved and much more complicated, at least in Lady Bird's case, in regards to sex and sexuality, which was refreshing and heartening to see. 

I found Lady Bird to be a rather paper thin character study that gets bogged down by forced quirkiness and derivative and trite humor. With Lady Bird, director Greta Gerwig tried to make a somewhat edgy art house type of movie but instead ended up with a rather predictable and amateur piece of work that is only elevated beyond its banality by the sublime talents of its leading lady, Saoirse Ronan. While Lady Bird is an ultimately unsatisfying cinematic endeavor, Ms. Ronan's masterful work is worth seeing.

In the final analysis, my review of this film is just like the film itself, a glaring and seemingly irreconcilable contradiction. On one hand there is my admiration for Saoirse Ronan's acting work as Lady Bird and on the other is my rather sharp criticism for Ms. Gerwig's writing and directing of the film. In order to resolve this contradiction I will compromise and split the difference by telling you to skip Lady Bird in the theatre because it isn't worth the money or the hassle, but watch it when you can on Netflix or cable, because Saoirse Ronan's performance is something you should see.