Meet Lady Bird. The headstrong 17-year-old has changed her own name (“It was given by myself to myself”), knows all the words to Alanis Morissette songs (compulsory in the early ‘00s) and thinks leaping out of a speeding car is an effective way to win an argument.
Played by Saoirse Ronan, the Sacramento teenager is the lovable heroine of Greta Gerwig’s sensational directorial debut, Lady Bird. Whip-smart and full of heart, the film is already being mentioned in the same breath as coming of age classics like Pretty in Pink and Juno. And it’s likely to become one of your favourite movies of 2018, too.
The indie dramedy follows the bright but often unfocused student in the final year of her Catholic education. It charts the ups-and-downs of her relationship with her parents, her friend Julie, and of course, her crushes.
We first encounter Lady Bird on the road with her mother—a strong-willed nurse played by the phenomenal Laurie Metcaff—while they review local colleges. Against her mother’s wishes and financial concerns, Lady Bird desperately wants to leave her home state of California and be accepted into a university like Yale. But not Yale, because she probably couldn’t get in, she hilariously observes.
Lady Bird soon throws herself into her school’s musical production as an extracurricular activity to score college credit and meets sweet drama nerd Danny (Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges). If you took year nine drama, you’ll definitely know a guy like Danny.
Through Lady Bird’s everyday life, Gerwig tackles a host of big issues from class divides, religion, reproductive rights and whether clove cigarettes suck. While this might seem like well-worn territory for teenage dramas, these issues feel remarkably original from Lady Bird’s point of view, and with a female writer and director at the helm.
The film also captures the dynamics of any turbulent mother-daughter relationship with fierce precision. Like many teenagers, Lady Bird cannot help but rage against her parents’ hard working machine. She sees her mother as too stubborn, too demanding. Her mother thinks she’s not reaching her potential.
It’s near impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Lady Bird than the perfectly cast Saorise (rhymes with inertia) Ronan. The three-time Oscar nominee nails the teenager’s tremendously funny lines (her musical theatre audition is a highlight) and manages to temper her precociousness with a vulnerability that always has the audience on her side.
In fact, the entire cast is perfection. Timothée Chalamet moved on from Call Me by Your Name and *that* peach to lend his talents and hair to hipster schoolboy Kyle. Then there’s Lady Bird’s Doritos-loving father, a quietly devastating role played by Tracy Letts. Gerwig treats all of her characters—whether they’re leads, authority figures or just background players—as fully realised people. They have daily struggles, fears and dreams; they’re people we care about long after the credits roll.
While shooting the film, Gerwig, encouraged everyone on set to wear name tags and filmed the magical prom scene while wearing a party dress of her own. Turns out, the entire crew dressed up too. It’s that tender and hyperspecific attention to detail that shines so brightly on screen in Gerwig’s first feature.
So, we’re calling it: it might only be February, but Lady Bird is one of the best films of the year.