Edition 22 March 2018, by Juan Alvarez
Lady Bird feels like she is a flower in the wrong pot, in an unnurturing, neglected one. It’s 2003, she is a 17 year teenager old in Sacramento, California, and feels like having dreams about great adventures, artistic greatness, New York and culture; but her immediate context ties her down to a dull suburban, mid-lower class life in a post-9/11 anxiety setting. Both literally and metaphorically, she lives “on the other side of the tracks”. She attends a catholic school with wealthier classmates, and she lies to them about living in a big, blue, beautiful house. She has to deal with graduating from high school, getting into a university his parents will probably not be able to afford, falling in love with guys, dreaming about the future, and above all, managing the relationship with his very down-to-earth mother, who in many ways is her counterpart, but also a sort of mirrored image. Lady Bird is divided between the fantasy of what her life could be, and the disquiet of what it currently is. As the rest of us, she desperately wants to feel unique and special, and at the same time is afraid that she is not.
There are several aspects of Lady Bird that collide to make it an honest, unpretentious, quotidian masterpiece. It is not a story of great deeds, but a coming of age tale we can all identify with: an adolescent feeling the pains of growing up and wanting a different life to the one she already has, bouncing against the walls of her parents, her school and her friends. It’s simple, but that simplicity is a very hard effect to obtain: it requires dedicated writing, directing and acting, all of which Lady Bird exceeds in. Greta Gerwig, its writer and director, found a personal voice in her debut feature film without the rough edges a novel filmmaker usually leaves unpolished. The script is clean, clever and flows smoothly as the story unfolds with little gaps; and what happens in the streets, the school, the inside of houses just simply feels natural, with no traces of the artifice used to configure it. The same applies to the acting: Saoirse Ronan as Lady bird and Laurie Metcalf as her mother dissolve into her roles, react sparklingly with each other, and make you believe that is not acting what your watching, but life, with its everyday marvelous wonder. That vivid everydayness is the virtue of Lady Bird. It is a movie that is like life, as expected, strange, painful and beautiful. In movies, made out of fiction, that effect is rare to find and wonderful to experience.