By Anthony Miglieri
Lady Bird is just a wonderful little thing of a film. Just like its setting of Sacramento, its scope is not huge. Unlike how main character Lady Bird (formerly known as Christine) feels about her California hometown, though, this film is all the better for its smallness. Writer and first-time solo director Greta Gerwig allegedly based Lady Bird on her own young adulthood, and her honesty and keen eye for detail are what make this movie a genuinely touching delight.
There is a general scaffolding holding Lady Bird together—there are grades, boys, friendships, and an overarching plot about deciding where to attend college—but this film’s greatest virtue is that it is a gallery of moments that explode with quiet truth and feeling. When I think back to Lady Bird, I think about a tender time on the grass, a chat in the pool, a father’s silent sadness in the living room, a pair of friends on the dance floor, a mother’s hysteria in the car. These are only a few, and all of them are shot and edited with a lean warmth. Nearly every beat and character is sculpted with a crystalline intellect and care.
When a character’s head is so physically large on the film’s poster (in this film’s case, framed by an inspired religious theme of stained glass and olde script), one can assume the performances are essential to the film’s success. Saoirse Ronan exceeds this expectation as the fiery Lady Bird herself, as does the critically lauded performance by Laurie Metcalf as her constrictive mother. However, it is a testament to this film’s achingly perfect casting that more minor performances by the likes of Tracy Letts as the impossibly warm yet depressed father, Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s springy best friend Julie, and Stephen Henderson as the tortured Father Leviatch are among the main ones that may or may not have had my eyes glistening in the theater.
Lady Bird just so happens to fit into one of the few wheelhouses the Academy has contoured for its Best Picture nominees: it is a fairly low-budget picture with heaps of critical buzz behind it. I don’t mean to belittle Gerwig and company’s achievement in way; Lady Bird is more than deserving of statues, just as the similarly small yet excellent coming-of-age drama Moonlight was at last year’s ceremony. More than it deserves some of those little golden guys though, Lady Bird demands attention because it does beautifully what great art does: it illuminates at least a little part of what it is to alive.