The first-odd minute of “Lady Bird” feels almost like you’ve been duped off your money. The film opens with a mother-daughter duo on the road. The image system seems dipped in so much schmaltz you wonder if you’re watching the same movie as everyone else.
However, this is just a warm-up for directing debutante Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha,” 2012). Pushing us into a complacent—dismissive, almost—nature, “Lady Bird” does an abrupt 180, shoving those rose-tinted glasses off us and crushing them to pieces.
A tad too out-of-the-blue for anybody’s good? Maybe, but Gerwig’s abrupt takedown of the image system she’s set up perfectly captures the unpredictable behavior of our titular teenager—Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan; “Brooklyn,” 2015)—who just can’t seem to catch a break.
A lot is going on between her unbridled anger, her dismissal of the society and surroundings she’s a part of, and her failed interpersonal interactions. The movie has enough emotional turmoil to last a lifetime, but each of her issues is given its due space. This will set it apart from most coming-of-age films in the long run.
Be it the evolution of her relationship with Julie (Beanie Feldstein; “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” 2016) and Danny (Lucas Hedges; “Manchester by the Sea,” 2016), or her attempts to be the “cool” one by shifting cliques, the changes Gerwig attempts to take its viewers through seem oddly organic. Lady Bird’s chaos gives the film its much-needed character.
And who better to bring the director’s beacon of growth and freedom than Ronan? She’s a powerhouse, delivering a sort of accessibility and nuance to her performance all at once. Whether it’s her quiet understanding of her father’s (Tracy Letts; HBO’s “Divorce,” 2016-2019) ongoing struggle with depression on the one hand or her volatile relationship with her mother—performed with absolute conviction by Laurie Metcalf (“Stop Loss,” 2008)—Ronan brings layers you don’t always see in protagonists like hers.
Greta Gerwig is on fire—if her filmography isn’t proof enough of her seemingly limitless talent, “Lady Bird” will be. The skill and grace with which she handles the titular protagonist’s internal chaos must be seen to be believed. Unmissable.