Coming of age stories remind us of where we’ve been and how we got to where we are. They can be deep, are usually emotionally charged, and often have one or two minutes of hilarity cushioned between defining moments of regret. Movies like Lady Bird, Boyhood, Little Miss Sunshine… Despicable Me all tell a story about family and evolution of the self. They are dramatic and empathetic – but they’re not for everybody. Maybe it takes a life to know a life and maybe some of us just haven’t lived yet. Or maybe I’m too excited for the next Avengers movie and find it hard to focus on Catholic school and spin the bottle. Who can say?
It’s her senior year and Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan, pronounced “Seer-sha”. You’re welcome) either hates, loves, or is indifferent to everything, depending on the minute and the way you ask. She’s a symptomatic teenager. Lady Bird has a scholarship to a fancy Catholic school because her brother saw someone get stabbed at public school and her mother drew the line. Lady Bird is a free, independent, confident girl with dirty pink hair and one misfit friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who’s falling hard for Teacher. Lady Bird literally comes from the wrong side of the tracks, living on the less-wealthy end of town. Her school life is a world of rich kids and enough dancing space for the Holy Spirit, while her home life is making ends meet and negotiating bathroom schedules. Lady Bird’s dad, Larry (Tracy Letts), is a kind, patient, understanding soul; but her mom, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), is another story. Marion loves her daughter but she has no idea how to show it. She has the patience of a squirrel, the understanding of a rabid wolverine, and is as kind as a cactus. Lady Bird has grumpy, short-fused moments, but they’re an obvious reaction to being pushed too hard for no good reason. Lady Bird is about a family reaching their limits emotionally, financially, and socially, and figuring out how to love each other anyway.
First off, the acting is sensational. Saoirse Ronan keeps her Brooklyn talent rolling and pulls out a phenomenal performance that’s sweet, furious, rebellious, innocent, and lonely. She doesn’t need to cry at random to convince us that Lady Bird is being tested by the people she’s meant to trust unconditionally. Lady Bird tells lies for reasons she doesn’t understand but we, as an unattached, mature audience, do. She cares a great deal, but often too late for it to make a difference. Every time Lady Bird taps into her patience it plants another cinder block between her and Marion. Saoirse effortlessly delivers a dialogue that is sharp and relatable, even though she doesn’t need a script to make us believe in Lady Bird.
For Marion, on the other hand, dialogue is everything. Laurie Metcalf is the second star of this show. She is a loving mother whose children constantly defend her; but she has no idea how cruel she can be. What makes Marion say these things? It’s hard for us to pick her apart because we see life through Lady Bird and Lady Bird just doesn’t understand. We get rare glimpses of Marion through her husband, Larry, and opportunities to see the heart behind the hurt. Still, the woman says what she thinks and it throws knives at their family tapestry. The relationship between Lady Bird and Marion is a brand of complicated that can’t be explained. You can take a stab at it, with space and years behind you, but it’s still a mother-daughter bond that English just doesn’t have words for.
We have these two outstanding and complex characters supported by a range of soft, happy, confused, selfish sidekicks all wrapped up in high school. There’s prom, stupid moments, graduation, stupid moments, and finally college with stupid moments and a drunk tank. At every milestone I thought Lady Bird was going to end. But just like real life, it kept going. There were no shocking turns of suspense or bends in the storyline. Lady Bird doesn’t fall down a well or run away because her happy and sad emotions fall out of the cranium command centre. The movie just kept rolling. I was a little bored. I can see the artistic appeal and the deep connection between actor and viewer, not to mention the empathy felt by a cast playing something so honest and true that Ernest Hemingway would be proud; but I felt a little starved for creativity. Lady Bird isn’t a fascinating, wondrous story that is bursting to be told. It’s just a season of life…
… Which is the appeal for some people. It’s hard to rate Lady Bird because I can clearly see how others will appreciate it. I’m just not one of them. For me it was slow and, although irritable and perceptively honest, it didn’t wrap me up and carry me away. Lady Bird is an artistic film without the art. It’s a movie about watching people age slightly and very slowly. I’m torn and therefore give it a 5/10.