Thoughts: Lady Bird's eye for detail soars over teen movie cliché


About three-fourths of the way into the film, a character in Lady Bird claims asks the titular lead if there is a difference between love and attention. Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is so alive with detail about high school in Sacramento, California circa 2002 that the question feels answered; her love for her hometown simply flows out of the screen.

Saoirse Ronan plays Lady Bird (birth name Christine), a high school senior whose quick wit and rebellious streak causes a rift between her mother and a bond with fellow schoolmate Julie (Beanie Feldstein). As she falls in and out of love with classmates, applies to colleges both local and across the country, and settles into new jobs, Lady Bird drifts from her Catholic, musical theater background into parties and vandalization with popular girl Jenna. Her identity is in flux, as it usually is at that age, and her familial relationships strain in response.

All of this could easily feel cliché or uninspired, especially considering Gerwig has collaborated with Noah Baumbach, a writer/director whose recent material has felt stuck in the past (see: While We're Young). Thankfully Gerwig's script feels fresh throughout. The pacing is brisk and the characters feel nuanced. The dialogue avoids being too basic nor too extreme; it's rare for a film to accurately depict teenagers being teenagers, but Lady Bird largely succeeds. 

The aforementioned attention to detail adds an extra layer of sparkle to the film. Era-specific bits of window dressing help set the scene like cell phones given "for emergency use only" and Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" blasting at the house party. More universal slices of Lady Bird's life, including the Catholic school and theater class, are depicted so vividly that they'll resonate deeply with those who can relate.

Ultimately, Lady Bird's relationship with her mother is the soul of the film. Again, the script avoids the stereotypical yell/slam/run away we've seen so many times to instead portray a more realistic battle of wills. Her mother is truly concerned with her grades and behavior, but Lady Bird reads this as distaste instead of worry. The film describes their relationship as it transforms with unflinching reality that kept reminding me of mother-daughter relationships I'd experienced.

Lady Bird is a well-made, beautifully shot, and impeccably scripted coming-of-age film about a young woman in a sea of similar films about men. Greta Gerwig's experience and energy make it rise above those tired conventions to become something truly special.

- Matt