beauty in the ordinary: lady bird movie review

I have long been a purveyor of films that do ordinary life really, really well. So when I saw the trailer for Lady Bird, needless to say I was excited. Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut captures an emotionally raw (at once sweet and brutal) chronicle of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s tumultuous relationship with her mother during her senior year of high school.

The name Lady Bird and its origin (“I gave it to myself. It’s given to me by me.”) remains a focal point of the movie as we follow Christine through her exploration of identity. Along for the ride are her parents, her friends, and her romantic interests, each of whom plays a key role in the larger narrative. Despite the obvious focus on Christine’s perspective and experiences, each of the characters have a persona which Gerwig develops expertly, if unspectacularly. And I mean that in the best way- the true impact of Lady Bird can be found in its very understanding and execution of the unspectacular.

I can admit I understand some of the audience claims that “nothing happens.” All things considered, Lady Bird is a simplistic movie. If you were to ask what the story’s about, at surface level the answer would be, well, not all that much. At first glance, the movie is your typical coming of age story riddled with tropes we’ve seen plenty of times. But if we choose to look a bit closer, it’s easy to see Lady Bird as a journey of both the title character and those surrounding her. Many movies tend to revolve around the protagonist in a way which makes it easy for the rest of the characters to get caught in an kind of orbit that strips them of any real purpose. But this isn’t the case with Lady Bird. Gerwig and her phenomenal cast find a key balance between main and supporting roles which only adds to the overall product. While we are undeniably following Christine, the rest of the cast is not so much along for the ride as they are driving their own cars down the same road. Each character has a distinctiveness and capacity that keeps them feeling dynamic and, for the most part, gets you caring about them. The combination of Gerwig’s direction and the cast’s abilities really bring the characters and their small corner of Sacramento to life.

Also brought to life are the relationships amongst these characters. We laugh with our friends the way Lady Bird and Julie do; we fight with our parents in the bitter, familial way perfectly captured in the opening scene; we cry over romantic toils like those of Danny and Kyle. No action or reaction in this movie is without consequence- every interaction comes with some kind of stakes, whether physical or emotional. Gerwig succeeds in showing us the magnified lens by which teenagers tend to view things, and doesn’t shy away from the reality of small-town, Catholic school life. There is budding sexuality, recreational drug use, nuns and sacramental bread. While the film is beautiful in its visual and emotional right, it is far from romanticized. Which isn’t to say it’s all rough around the edges- Lady Bird is undoubtedly marked by touching, genuinely funny moments which speak to real life. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every person who sees this movie could find something that they connect with.

(I say this having seen it with four of my guy friends, all of whom ended up in tears)

Lady Bird was a real, beautifully ordinary take on how it feels to stand on the cusp of adulthood. It’s emotionally brave, truthful, and full of heart. The dialogue is wonderfully funny and genuine. Gerwig concocts a story with equal parts cynicism and hope; one that feels both like leaving and coming home.

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