Ed Note: Recently my wife was able to make it out to a girls' night at the movies to see Lady Bird. Enjoy her review! -Pete.
Wife Note: Special thanks to Pete for being on baby duty so that I could go see this film. Noms were a joint effort.
I have a soft spot for movies that let Place become a character. If you’ve ever seen the movie Bottle Shock, you know what I mean: lingering warm-hued scenes of landscape interspersed among the activity make obvious how entwined the characters are to their place. Their love of it. Their context in it. Lady Bird is shot with the same attention to light and perspective. It's rich in saturated evenings by the American river and wide views of tree-lined streets in east Sacramento. This is why I came to see Lady Bird. The characters belong to their place. And that helps create one of the central tensions of the movie: a young girl desperate to get out of her place, in every sense.
It would be reductive to call Lady Bird a coming of age tale, but this is its closest approximation. Christine, who goes by her self-given name, Lady Bird, is a catholic school girl attending a private school in Sacramento. Unlike her wealthy classmates she grows up on the ‘wrong side of the tracts.’ The film follows her senior year of high school complete with all the age-defining ups and downs that come with that transition. The film is constructed as a string of snap-shots of those moments. The acting is superb: listening to Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, TheLovely Bones, Atonement and Hanna) with her native Irish accent nailing the slow west-coast diction of a Nor Cal teenager is praise worthy. She intuits the character well. She is Lady Bird, not an actress playing her, and it is delightful. Greta Gerwig’s script (which she wrote and directed) shows her native love of Sacramento and gives Saoirse plenty of nuance to latch onto. I can think of no better pairing.
Each supporting character feels similarly rounded out but special attention should also be given to Beanie Feldstein who plays Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend. Also from the wrong side of town, she has more brains or perhaps just more of an ability to follow through at school and is portrayed as a dedicated student that has nonetheless surrendered to going to the local city college. She’s warm, endearing, but lacks gumption. You want to sit down with her. Mentor her. Pep-talk her into succeeding. Help her build what Lady Bird already has in spades.
Also worthy of special mention is Lady Bird’s mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). She is warm with others but uncompromising with her daughter. It is one of the best mother-daughter depictions in film I’ve ever seen. The comfortable volatility in their relationship is what it’s all about: screaming one minute and then shopping together the next. Laurie Metcalf deserves an Oscar. I hope she gets it.
I saw this movie because next summer we’ll be leaving our content life in Minneapolis and moving to Sacramento for work. And while I am originally a proud child of the Bay Area, I can’t say that I had ever been to Sacramento. Like Lady Bird, I graduated high school in 2002 and felt the pull to leave the west coast for the glamour of the East coast (for me it was the image of ivy tendrils crawling up tall brick buildings at some elite college campus. Unlike Lady Bird though, the East Coast would not have me). So I was already inclined to her story.
But I left the film initially a bit confused about my feelings. From a conversation I had with my Wisconsonite movie-going friend:
Me: I don’t know how I feel about Sacramento, they call it the Midwest of California.
Friend: What’s wrong with the Midwest?
And that sums it up. Her place, her context. And when I leave and think back on Minneapolis it will have been my place, my context: like Lady Bird, you come to appreciate the places that make you make sense even if you move on.
So now I have an anticipatory appreciation of Sacramento having seen Gerwig’s love of it. Maybe this can become our young son’s Place. All in all, go see the film. I’m not a star-giver, but if I was, I’d give this movie a whole lot of them.
Noms: Beanie Feldstein, Laurie Metcalf, and Saoirse Ronan for acting, Gretta Gerwig for writing and directing. Not to be left out for best supporting actor is Lucas Hedges whose side story could have been its own film. Also Sam Levy for best photography, who per Gerwig was instructed to make the film feel "like a memory".