‘Lady Bird’ is best written film of the year

December 1, 2017 GMT

Greta Gerwig, the meek and mild-mannered actress — whose signature style has landed her great supporting and leading roles in acclaimed films such as “20th Century Women” and “Jackie” — is making her writing and directing debut, and she’s knocking it out of the park.

“Lady Bird” stars Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) as an impetuous teen ready to leave the nest. Struggling with her family’s financial abilities to provide her the opportunities she so very much wants and realizing a little late that her lack of dedication in the classroom might affect her, Lady Bird (aka Christine) attempts to figure out life and her future. Her senior year adventures take us all down memory lane in this poignantly funny and meaningful story.

The first scene sets the tone for the entire film: Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), are driving down the road discussing college plans and visits. What starts out as a nice conversation quickly escalates into familiar-sounding finger-pointing, and Lady Bird exits the conversation by opening up the car door and bailing. It’s at once horrifying and hilarious, as mothers or daughters all have been there, at least metaphorically. It’s equivalent to an amplification of the classic eye roll.

The film is seen through Lady Bird’s eyes, as she makes every attempt to leave her middle-class California suburban life and go to edgy New York City for college. Pumping up her academic profile, she joins the theater group, but weighing out her newfound options, she ditches best friends and travels down a new, accelerated path. Along the way, she loses her virginity, discovers secrets and constantly tugs and tears at those apron strings. It’s all part of growing up, and “Lady Bird” beautifully portrays this difficult and very important time in a teen’s life.

The writing and the dialogue set this film apart from anything we’ve seen this year. The relationships, particularly with her mother and father, are developed with a richness and sincerity that bring these characters such emotional proximity to our own lives. She’s closer with her father than her mother, yet Lady Bird is a typical teen with her unending judgmental and explosive reactions. She’s still learning about life, obviously, but it is her growth as a young adult that is sheer beauty to watch unfold.

Lady Bird’s friendships are key to her growth as she falls in and out of love with Kyle (Timothee Chalamet of “Call Me By Your Name”) and Danny (Lucas Hedges of “Manchester By The Sea”), but it is her best friend, Diana (Laura Marano), who takes the brunt of Lady Bird’s fallout as she gets dumped for the sake of the popular girls. Lady Bird is in constant inner turmoil, wrestling with right and wrong, good and bad, and attempting to set and achieve her goals. Everything she experiences reminds us why we would never in a million years go back to those high school days!

Gerwig’s skillful direction of seasoned actors gives the film charm and depth. Ronan transforms herself into a young Gerwig, complete with the same speech patterns and body language we’ve seen from Gerwig in the past. Ronan embodies a typical teen, giving a nuanced performance that allows us to understand her and perhaps even ourselves many years ago.

Tracy Letts is Larry, Lady Bird’s father, who has hit upon hard times with work. He’s also the peacekeeper in the family, as Lady Bird and her mother don’t see eye to eye on, well, anything. Being a parent is one of the most difficult jobs and both Letts and Metcalf exemplify the emotional tug of war that children make us play. Metcalf’s character is tough, yet beneath that hardened exterior, we know she loves her daughter and is doing the best she can. Her words are harsh, cutting through Lady Bird’s delicate psyche with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. The damage is done, but with the softness and understanding of Lett’s character, there’s a chance for healing. With these exemplary performances, it wouldn’t be surprising if “Lady Bird” had more than a few Oscar nominations come January.

“Lady Bird” is a feel-good, coming-of-age movie that any teen or parent can relate to on many different levels. The heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking growth we witness in all of the characters will engage your very soul. Gerwig is making a huge impact with her debut film, and I look forward to seeing whatever her sophomore attempt might be.

4 out of 4 stars