It's 2003 and Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) struggles daily with being a teenager, her mother (Laurie Metcalf), the uncertain nature of her life, and everything in between - all while she prepares to graduate from high school.
From the very opening scenes of 'Lady Bird', right through to its ending, what makes the film so powerful and so emotional isn't just about the power of the performances from the cast, but in how unsuspecting and unassuming it all is. It's not a film about powerful societal changes, world-shaking events, the very nature of humanity, or even anything that could be remotely considered relevant to our daily lives - but it so effectively and intimately captures our daily lives that it becomes impossible to ignore. There's a good chance by the end of 'Lady Bird', you'll either know someone like her or have seen some variation in the story play out before.
Saoirse Ronan plays the titular character and makes it her own as the seemingly self-possessed and self-involved titular teenager, flicking between these two descriptors throughout the film with ease. There's moments in the film when you're taken by her confidence, and then rolling your eyes at being that ignorant of her situation - but what ties it together and makes it so compelling is that there's a good chance you yourself were that same teenager who didn't have a clue. Ronan manages to walk the line between this and still make her character appealing and convincing. It helps, of course, that she plays off against two of the most accomplished performers working today as her parents - namely, Tracey Letts and Laurie Metcalf.
While Letts takes a backseat somewhat, Metcalf is instead put-upon to act as the voice of adult reason and exasperation with Ronan, and does so exquisitely. There are so many scenes between Metcalf and Ronan where she loses the rag with her on-screen daughter in such a human, relatable way that have no real impact on the story - but form the very essence of it; that mothers battle daughters throughout their lives over small transgressions and larger truths. Metcalf's performance is quietly brilliantly, and she so carefully plays her part with experience, craft and intelligence that it's a real shame she's been (so far) bereft of awards.
While the dynamic of the film rests between Ronan and Metcalf, it's Greta Gerwig's screenplay and direction that puts the two of them together. It could be derisively argued that 'Lady Bird' is a film about nothing, that it's merely about a teenage girl in suburban California in 2003 who comes of age - and it is all these things - but what Gerwig manages to do is infuse with a sense of warmth, humour and realism. The minute details of the film, from the costume to the soundtrack to the simple fact that only one or two people have mobile phones (and it's a luxury item at that), all so clearly capture the time period and transport you to it that it should be talked about in the same way people talk about the likes of 'Titanic' or 'The Age Of Innocence'. Gerwig so clearly captures our recent past, and does so with such subtlety, that it's incredible to think this is her directorial debut.
As one scene with Ronan and veteran character actress Lois Smith assiduously points out, attention is the same thing as love - and the manner in which Gerwig captures the sleepy, small-stakes nature of that time period and a teenager's life makes it all the more effective. It's a universal truth that the more specific something is, the more universal it can be taken - and that's why 'Lady Bird' works across the board. Older generations can watch it with the certain knowledge that they've had annoying teenagers not heed their knowledge, thirty-somethings watch it with the realisation of their angst, and teenagers can view it as a shape of things to come. It all works together and crosses over, and in the finale, Lady Bird lands its most devastating moment that sends you out in the world and contacting your parents afterwards.
One of the best films to be released this year.