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Everyone has at least a couple of awkward yet interesting stories about their senior year of high school. It's one of those common bonds that gets people talking when they first enter college, and can ultimately lead to even deeper dissection in the later years of a person's life. But in the moment, when those stories are being written, they feel like the deepest, most important experiences we'll ever face in our entire lives. It's that sort of thinking that Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is centered in, and it's as authentic and affecting as any of those stories could ever be.
On the precipice of adulthood, Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) does what any teenager would do: she lives by her emotions, is constantly searching for the cool people to be friends with, and tends to fall in love rather quickly. All the while, she picks fights with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), as her lifetime in California has her yearning to go to a sophisticated college on the East Coast. A story told throughout her senior year of high school, Lady Bird is all about trying to fly, and the mistakes we make during each attempt.
Ever since her debut in Atonement, Saoirse Ronan has been on a role when it comes to the leads she's scored in films like Lady Bird. In fact, all throughout writer/director Greta Gerwig's film, I was reminded that Ronan is an ace when it comes to portraying this particularly sensitive time in a young woman's life. She continues to captivate the screen with her acting skills, making both "Lady Bird's" sympathetic and more childish moments come to life without turning them into caricatures. While we can take issue with some of her actions and statements to those she knows and loves, we can never write off her character as a typical screen brat. It's a delicate line to walk with such a story, and Saoirse Ronan makes it look damned easy.
Making her directorial debut, Gerwig's work on Lady Bird is as confident as it is proficient. Her strength shows within every frame of the film, as her claim that the film is semi-autobiographical can be seen in the honesty that's present in each moment's framing. This is a very visually low-key film, but that works towards capturing the reality of the various moments that Lady Bird herself experiences. With a career that spans a little over a decade, you can tell that not only has Greta Gerwig found her voice as a writer, but that she's been extremely attentive to the directors she's worked with in the past. The result is a new directing talent that the indie (and mainstream) world will have to look forward to competing with in the future.
As wonderful as Lady Bird is, there is a bit of a problem with the narrative flow of the film. The sum-total of Lady Bird's senior year feels more like a series of loosely connected vignettes, rather than a fully connected story. It's an interesting choice when it come to the film's story, as it really makes your enjoyment of the film depend on how you personally identify with it. As such, the overarching story feels a bit thin, especially because we don't get nearly enough time with Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts as Saoirse Ronan's on-screen parents. Lady Bird is still very much a movie, but some more focus in the narrative would have driven home the points it had to make about the adolescent experience.
Lady Bird is an enjoyable film, with a honest heart about it. Saoirse Ronan, as always, is a captivating and intriguing lead, and she anchors a stellar cast in a film that deftly danced between emotional beats and genuine comedy. While the narrative is less structured than a typical film's story, it's still a nostalgic look back on those days when being a kid wasn't an option, but being an adult was still a little bit in the distance. It's a bonding experience for best friends, as well as mothers and daughters, can truly enjoy.