I remember when director Noah Baumbach and actor Greta Gerwig made the wonderful movie Frances Ha, and Gerwig had to work hard to remind people that she co-wrote the movie with Baumbach, she didn’t just star in it. It was a shame, and not just because women so rarely get due credit in Hollywood, but also because now that I’ve seen Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it’s clear that she was the more important part of that writing team. Not that Baumbach isn’t talented. But Gerwig is just as clever and smart and funny, and more importantly, she has a heart.
Lady Bird announces its presence with a surprising opening scene involving an argument in a car between 17-year-old Lady Bird, played expertly by Saoirse Ronan, and her mother, played by the criminally underappreciated Laurie Metcalf. It instantly gives us a window into the characters’ lives and personalities, and in one deft motion tells us exactly what kind of movie it’s going to be. The fact that Gerwig conveys so much with such economy is something that’s repeated again and again throughout the movie. Despite its brisk 94-minute run time, Lady Bird packs in so much emotional truth that we feel like we really understand and know these people, even when they’re frustrating and confounding.
Lady Bird is a high school student in Sacramento, born with the name Christine, but choosing to go by Lady Bird as a sort of rejection of the name her mother gave her. Much of the movie hits the typical coming-of-age notes as Lady Bird struggles with school, learns about her sexuality, and leaves aside her best friend in favor of more popular classmates. But Gerwig has such a confident hand as a director that these scenes seem fresh and raw and real, and Lady Bird’s clashes with her mother and tenderness with her father resonate deeply. No one is good or bad here, they’re all just people, with hopes and flaws and disappointments.
I’ve got no reason to wait for more evidence to pass judgment: Greta Gerwig is a major talent, and someone who may very well walk away with a gold statue or two when awards season comes around.