We open with a mother and daughter listening to an audio book in
the car. Both are obviously
emotional characters, because both have tears streaming down their cheeks.
But then when the audiobook is off, mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf)
and daughter Christine (Saoirse Ronan) begin their staccato bickering,
which feels so familiar that the viewer senses they probably rehearse it
And that's a shame, because we want to like both characters.
Marion is a stressed-out Mom whose college-graduate son is back
living with them, along with his girlfriend, whose parents don't approve
of their live-in arrangement. Marion's
husband has just been laid off from his programming job, and has entered
that fragile, poignant arena where fifty-ish males realize that everybody
wants to hire younger. They
just didn't expect to be such dinosaurs before they were actually ready to
be put out to pasture. Marion
is so stressed she's working two shifts at her job as a nurse in a
psychiatric clinic, and also trying to cope with the inelegant teenage
awkwardness of Christine, who has decided she wants everybody to call her
Lady Bird. Marion is not in a
mood to indulge something so frivolous, not to mention back-handedly
insulting. (What, they name they chose for her isn't good enough?)
Alas, Marion's high stress mostly translates to Lady Bird as
disapproval. And that's just
close enough to the mark to hurt. Because
as much as Lady Bird desires her independence, she also desperately seeks
parental approval, and is getting precious little of that from her Mom.
Turning to quiet, genial Dad, Larry (Tracy Letts) helps somewhat,
but he's also unwilling to stand up to Mom, even to defend Christine from
the relentless harping criticism.
But we really want to like Lady Bird, because she's still trying to
find her way, and she makes mistakes, and sometimes she doesn't use good
judgment, and sometimes she doesn't read people right, but she's got a
good heart. Her first
“boyfriend,” whom she met while trying out for the school musical,
seems perfect: attentive,
funny, smart, affirming, sensitive. Somehow
it doesn't occur to her why he might not be that interested in sexually
advancing the relationship. Lady
Bird complains to her Mom that she doesn't need to go to private school.
Actually she's ambivalent about all the religious rituals; she
conforms naturally to them, but she questions their veracity.
(Mother Superior is at least intelligent and perceptive, and even a
Lady Bird wants to get far away from Sacramento, California, and go
to the East Coast for college. Preferably
New York City. But her
parents' financial situation makes that dream seem unlikely.
She tries to get “in” with the popular crowd by dating a
cynical musician, but he lies to her, and really doesn't care about anyone
else, anyway, including her. So
she winds up going to prom with her old best friend, needing to work
through recent awkwardness and spiteful things said in heated moments.
Yes, it's a “coming of age” story, but with lots of lurching
and sputtering along the way. Lady
Bird is not a physical beauty. But
she can be alternately lively, irreverent, caustic, affectionate, sullen,
candid, sensitive, vulnerable, saucy, and determined.
Sometimes all in the same day.
Writer and Director Greta Gerwig turns out
to have both a deft touch and a listener's insight.
We hope for more from her.