The Heroine’s Journey of Greta Gerwig, director of “Lady Bird”

“And I remember when Kathryn Bigelow won for best director and how it seemed as if possibilities were expanded because of it. I genuinely hope that what this means to women of all ages – young women, women who are well into their careers – is that they look at this and they think, ‘I want to go make my movie.’ Because a diversity of storytellers is incredibly important and also I want to see their movies. I want to know what they have to say! So I hope that’s what it does.”  Greta Gerwig

The opening moments of “Lady Bird” accomplish so much so quickly, it takes your breath away. A mother and daughter are engaged in the time-honored tradition of the senior-year road trip to check out college campuses. It is 2002, and they are intently listening to a book on tape—in this case, The Grapes of Wrath. As it concludes, the two smile at one another, sigh and wipe the tears from their eyes.

Enjoy the lack of familial tension while you can. This is just about the last time parent and child will agree on anything as 17-year-old Christine, aka the self-proclaimed Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan, the very picture of adolescent pique), impatiently expresses her post-graduation intention to flee from her staid  Sacramento and take off to the East Coast “where the culture is.” Later, she will deride her hometown as the “Midwest of California” and not bother to correct someone who thinks she is from San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Marion (Laurie Metcalf of “Rosanne” TV fame, staking her claim in the movie mom hall of fame) takes maternal passive-aggressiveness to new levels as a persnickety psychiatric nurse. Forced to work double shifts after her husband is laid off, she attempts to sell Lady Bird on a cheaper in-state institution, to no avail. The push-pull of their conflicting points of view, informed by fear of the unknown and begrudging expressions of affection, is the energy that drives one of the more accomplished female-led coming-of-age tales.

Of course, the MVP here is Ronan, whose Lady Bird is as far from her sweet Irish lass in “Brooklyn” as she can be. Bedecked with a messy blood-red dye job, a smattering of acne and thrift-shop chic sensibilities, she is thoughtful and impulsive, sharp and naïve in equal measure. Lady Bird at one point declares that “the learning part of high school is over.” And, yet, there is still much to be absorbed when it comes to losing one’s virginity, cheating on quizzes, settling for being in the chorus of a drama club production, ditching a guy who clearly has no special feelings for you, breaking up and making up with your bosom buddy and finding out that smoking and drinking are not all that they’re cracked up to be.

 

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