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Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” soars among the best films of the season

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Created under the loving hand of Greta Gerwig in her stunning directorial debut, “Lady Bird” is a coming of age story that resonates not only with any senior, anyone who’s gone to Catholic school, or anyone who feels out of place, but any and every teenager. The film, which stars the chameleon that is Saoirse Ronan, is nominated for five Academy Awards this season and has already won two Golden Globes (Best Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture).

Greta Gerwig directs Academy Award nominated actors Timothee Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan. Gerwig’s nomination for “Lady Bird” made academy award history: she’s the first woman to be nominated for a debut film, and one of only five women ever nominated.

The first few seconds of the film showcase a quote by Joan Didion: “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” Both Gerwig and Didion grew up in Sacramento, making the film an especially personal project for the Academy Award-nominated director. The next two hours will prove that the city is a crucial player in the film as the protagonist, Lady Bird (a name she chose for herself in place of the one her parents gave her, Christine), navigates college, boys, and the meaning of home.

For anyone who’s ever attended a Catholic school, and especially for anyone who’s ever felt out of place at a Catholic school, the film resonates more than the bells during Eucharist. Gerwig’s portrayal of Lady Bird’s school and peers is so excellent that I found myself, a Catholic school veteran, getting way too many flashbacks to my middle school years. Some particular highlights were the hilarious rehearsals for the musical Lady Bird participates in, the skirt hem check, and Lady Bird eating the Eucharist with her best friend Julie (played by a spot-on Beanie Feldstein).

And yet, Gerwig is able to pull these off without it seeming like a high school or Catholic school cliche. Perhaps it’s because the moments are so detailed and rich that it draws you into Lady Bird’s confused, teenage reality. Or perhaps it’s the emotional thread of coming-of-age that weaves through the life of our pink-haired protagonist. While the moments are searingly accurate, you know in the first minutes that Gerwig’s goal is capturing something much more complex and intriguing than just the high school experience (although in her pursuit she manages to convey it to audiences effortlessly).

Even though Lady Bird presents herself as someone who doesn’t need (or want) to fit in, with piles of jewelry layered over her uniform, a dyed crop, and a Goodwill wardrobe, the film follows her as she tries to find her place. She auditions for the school play, makes it in, and starts dating the star (Danny, played by Lucas Hedges). However, this is squashed when she finds Danny making out with another boy in the bathroom, and she storms out of the party completely heartbroken. She leaves her theater friends behind in pursuit of the brooding heartthrob Kyle (he’s in a band… swoon), whose ironic idiosyncrasies, irritating mansplaining (less swoon), and teen intrigue are so well acted by a brilliant Timothée Chalamet.

As she tries out new activities and botches various romantic pursuits, Lady Bird’s biggest dream is to go to New York for college – or rather, get out of Sacramento. She struggles with the financial issues as well as the academic challenges that will have any high schooler, especially those going through the application process, shouting choruses of “me too” at the screen throughout the film.

But the true heart of the story lies between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). With Lady Bird’s father out of a job and three kids at home (Lady Bird’s post-college brother and his girlfriend, Shelly), Marion navigates how to raise a teenage daughter while also keeping their family afloat. The movie’s evaluation of the fascinating mother-daughter relationship is compelling and realistic, and so well portrayed by Metcalf and Ronan. In the film’s opening, one moment Lady Bird and Marion are shedding shared tears over the CD of “Grapes of Wrath” and in the next they’re arguing about college, causing Lady Bird to literally throw herself out of the moving car.

Throughout the movie, there are other gems between the two women. After a particularly heartbreaking experience with Kyle, Lady Bird and Marion do their “second favorite Sunday activity”: going to open houses of the more bougie homes in town. And when Marion finds out that Lady Bird’s been hiding the New York applications from her, the hurt and period of separation is all too real for parents who only try to do their best for their kids, and teens who believe their parents lack understanding of their reality.

As a mother and daughter duo, both Laurie Metcalf (far left) and Saoirse Ronan (far right) have been nominated by the Golden Globes and Oscar committees for their performances.

Lady Bird eventually gets into an unnamed New York university and is driven to the airport by her parents. Her mother chooses to not follow her into the airport, and as Marion rounds the Sacramento airport, tears fall from her face as she fills with the pride and sadness of seeing her daughter go. No matter how mad, the love between Lady Bird and her mother shines through.

Laurie Metcalf is excellent in this film, as is Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father. As the protagonists’ parents, they are undeniably convincing as they struggle to figure out what to do with their teen and attempt to keep their household running under the oppressive hand of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from.

The film’s star, Saoirse Ronan, inhabits the baggy jeans, cardigans, and pink hair as if it were her own, adopting a spot-on Californian dialect for the film. Ronan’s name is just as Irish as her accent, but you can’t spot a trace of her thick brogue in the laid back dialect of her character. The 23-year-old, who’s already been nominated for two Academy Awards for previous roles and won a Golden Globe for “Lady Bird” this season, absolutely conquers another dynamic role.

At the high school, the cast of characters is also spot on. Lady Bird’s best friend Julie is played by a hilarious Beanie Feldstein, who spent most of the year on Broadway in the Tony Award winning revival of “Hello, Dolly!”. The film also features Timothée Chalamet, whose career took off this year thanks to the fellow Best Picture nominee, “Call Me by Your Name.” Ronan and Chalamet, at 23 and 22 (respectively) are two of the youngest nominees for best actor and actress in history.

In the final minutes of the film, Lady Bird finally reaches her goal of being accepted into a New York college. She makes her way to New York, emerges from a subway with heaving bags in hand, and settles herself in her dorm. Finally, in her perfect scenario, she discovers that even college includes some lost and found. She’s spent the entire year trying on identities to see what fits, and even as the credits roll, we see that she hasn’t truly found herself. And yet, as all lost teens can feel, there’s not a sense of hopelessness. Lady Bird, like all of us, is going to be okay.

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Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” soars among the best films of the season