Lady Bird: Coming of Age in Sacramento

A- Coming-of-age comedy
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig

If you’ve followed Greta Gerwig’s career as an actress and a screenwriter, you wouldn’t be surprised at the quality of her solo directorial debut. In Lady Bird, she examines a very explosive mother/daughter relationship, explores the social dynamics of a Catholic high school, and manages to realize every character as a full human being. And she does it all with laughs.

Gerwin doesn’t appear in Lady Bird. She stays behind the camera.

The film focuses on Christine (Saoirse Ronan of Brooklyn), who prefers to go by the nickname Lady Bird. She’s a senior at a Catholic high school in Sacramento. Her family isn’t religious, but her mother thinks that the public high school is too dangerous.

The movie’s major conflict pits Lady Bird against her mother (Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird wants to continue her education as far away from Sacramento as possible – preferably a liberal arts college on the East Coast. Mom, on the other hand, takes a more practical view. Her daughter doesn’t have exceptionally good grades, and her parents can barely afford to get her into a UC. Mom doesn’t have much trust in her daughter’s capabilities. “You’ll go to city college, then to jail, then to city college again.”

Mom is obsessed with money, and for good reason. Neither she nor Lady Bird’s dad make much money. They own a house, but it’s a small, run-down one on “the wrong side of the tracks.” Lady Bird’s big brother has a college degree, but the only job he could get is supermarket checker. He and his girlfriend (who also works at the supermarket), sleep in the living room.

Class issues play a large part in Lady Bird. Several of her friends come from very rich families. A boyfriend’s grandmother lives in a mansion. At one point, she gives a friend a fake address because she’s ashamed of where she lives.

Lady Bird has two boyfriends over the course of the movie, but neither relationship lasts. Everybody is just trying to figure out how this romance and sex thing is supposed to work.

Gerwig doesn’t make a big deal about Catholicism. There are no boys in the classes, but the girls find ways to meet them. Lady Bird gets in trouble for making a snide comment during an anti-abortion lecture. But one old and kindly nun (Lois Smith – you’ll recognize the face if not the name) doesn’t punish Lady Bird for a prank because it made her laugh.

Unlike Lady Bird, Gerwig almost never reaches for a joke. The laughs come naturally from common human foibles. They’re funny because we understand the very real feelings behind them.

The movie is set in 2002. We were about to go into war with Iraq, and people were not yet glued to their phones.

The year doesn’t matter. Lady Bird captures feelings that we’ve had as long as we’ve been human.

The film opens this coming Friday.