September 23, 2018

Lady Bird’s Coming of Age Is a Smashing Success

Great Gerwig. Photo by Gordon Vasquez, Creative Commons License.

By Billy Jepma ’18
Entertainment Columnist

Of all the movies to have been released, Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” stands out as one of the most profoundly impactful.

While it does not define itself with spectacle, stunning displays of camerawork, or even a thrilling story, it is nonetheless defined by its complete mastery of what makes a good movie.

It’s meticulously paced, beautifully acted, and most importantly, delivers one of the most sincere and rousing coming-of-age stories to come out of Hollywood in years.

“Lady Bird” is a story about people. That may sound like an empty descriptor, but its the best way to describe it simply because the film grapples with so many themes and ideas at once that to outline them all would take far too long. It’s a nuanced and emotional exploration of what it means to grow up, and more specifically, what it means to decide who you want to be as a person.

While the story is very much centered on Saoirse Ronan’s character, ‘Lady Bird’––she gave that to herself, in case you’re wondering––she is far from the only star here. Her often volatile relationship with her mother––played by Laurie Metcalf, whose award-worthy performance is probably a career best––is arguably the most important one in the film, as the frequent clashes between mother and daughter are both upsettingly aggressive and powerfully affecting.

“Lady Bird” is blunt about many things, and does not shy away from the burgeoning sexuality of the teenage cast of characters, but it is also extraordinarily subtle as well.

When dealing with mental health, emotional abuse, and even religion, “Lady Bird” somehow pulls off the impressive feat of both assaulting these concepts head-on without falling into melodrama or heavy-handedness.

The credit for the success of “Lady Bird” is contingent almost exclusively on Greta Gerwig, who wrote and directed the film. Not only is her script, along with her work behind the camera, graceful and nuanced, but the fact that she was able to so seamlessly integrate a complex cast of complicated characters into a story that, on all accounts, comes across as pretty simple on paper, is nothing short of a triumph.

This is Gerwig’s first time writing and directing a film on her own––she’s co-written and co-directed several other projects before––only heightens this achievement, and gives the entire film an extra layer of impact to an already impactful narrative.

From start to finish, “Lady Bird” is a fiercely compelling film. It assaults the audience with characters who refuse to be labeled as either “good” or “bad,” but instead allows the cast to exist as if they were real people. Everyone is messy, no one is simple, and no one is one-dimensional.

Every character Lady Bird comes into contact with feels as if they could star in a feature film all on their own, and yet they never once distract from the fact that this is entirely Lady Bird’s show.

Which is a good thing, because Saoirse Ronan’s performance here is spectacular.

She is at once distinctly unique as a character, and yet so realistically portrayed in her teenage angst, doubt, and impulsiveness that relating with her happens almost automatically.

Ronan transitions between scenes of compassion, rage, doubt, and heartbreak without breaking a sweat. By the time the film reaches its intrinsically gratifying conclusion, it feels as if you have just lived, loved, laughed, and cried alongside a character who is so real it’s easy to forget that she’s not.

More than any other film from 2017, “Lady Bird” stands out for its honest and compelling story of a young woman grappling with herself, the world at large, and everyone who shares that world with her. It’s a brilliant directorial debut for Greta Gerwig, a stunning showcase for Saoirse Ronan, and one of the best coming-of-age stories to ever be put on film.

Please go and watch it.

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