Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is your run-of-the-mill coming of age story disguised as an indie darling. Saoirse Ronan plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a senior in high school who is desperate to get out of her hometown in Sacramento. Gerwig was also raised in Sacramento and while Lady Bird is not autobiographical, the personal subject seems a good fit for the actress’s first solo-directed film. Lady Bird joins the drama club at her catholic school as a means of finding a place where she fits, she struggles with love, but her biggest issue is the turbulent relationship she shares with her mother. All of this is familiar coming-of age territory and unfortunately, Lady Bird doesn’t do much to set itself apart.
Perhaps what wowed audiences and critics when Lady Bird first appeared was it’s perfect indie packaging—it’s covered in early 2000s nostalgia, from clunky cellphones to the bright colored streaks in Lady Bird’s hair. But none of this successfully covers up the worn-out tropes the movie falls victim to. Lady Bird falls in love with the drama club’s lead actor (Lucas Hedges), who turns out to be gay. She abandons her best friend Julie, played brilliantly by Beanie Feldstein, for the cool kids. The mean girl in class turns her back on her as soon as she discovers the truth about Lady Bird’s middle-class upbringing. Gerwig plays into all of these exhausted coming-of age plot points.
Despite the tired approach to the plot, Lady Bird’s cast does its best to bring charm to the story. The two stars of the film are Ronan and Laurie Metcalf who plays the McPherson’s tough, but big-hearted matriarch. Ronan plays Lady Bird with an awkward charm even when Gerwig’s writing often makes it hard to like her. Metcalf delivers a nuanced performance, balancing perfectly her character’s sharp exterior with the emotional depth of a mother who loves deeply. The supporting cast is just as strong, but Feldstein shines the most. She’s funny and unapologetic as Lady Bird’s best friend, a performance that surely must have helped her get her own coming of age film, Book Smart.
Gerwig’s Lady Bird is far from perfect. It relies too much on what is expected of the coming of age genre. However, it is not completely without merit. The last twenty minutes of the film stand out as the strongest. Lady Bird realizes that she doesn’t need to fit in with the popular kids, and soon after she graduates high school. During this time, Gerwig shifts focus to concentrate on the relationships between Lady Bird and Julie, and between her and her mother. This shift in focus highlights where Gerwig’s strength truly lies—in writing complex relationships between women. It’s easy to forget the rest of the film’s clumsiness as Ronan and Metcalf embody both the resentment and unconditional love that can be present in mother-daughter relationships.
Valerie Lopez is a film intern who loves hearing herself talk about movies almost as much as watching them.