Lady Bird: Drama in ‘reel’ life

It’s easy to pen “Lady Bird” into a corner, especially given the fact that the indie romantic comedy/drama currently stands as the best reviewed film in the history of Rotten Tomatoes.

But “Lady Bird” is more than just an universally beloved film. It represents something more dynamic and changing within modern filmmaking, a new pinnacle for female-led and female driven cinema that transcends genre and becomes something much more unique and revolutionary. It’s “Wonder Woman” on cinematic steroids, without all that CGI muddling the frame and has one of the year’s three best screenplays.

You’d be hard-pressed to find more vivid, authentic female characters than in “Lady Bird,” writer/director Greta Gerwig’s deeply personal drama about an outcast high school senior growing up in Sacramento, California in late 2002.

Though not based on a real story, Gerwig’s vibrant, natural tale of a young woman who insists on being called Lady Bird in order to stand out feels immensely biopic in nature in spite of how different the titular character might be from Gerwig’s own life experiences.

Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan, best known for her Oscar-nominated work in the 2015 film “Brooklyn,” dazzles as the charismatic yet rebellious Lady Bird. Ronan brings a mesmerizing confidence to the role, charming her way through scenes where whether or not the audience should like her remains ambiguous.

It’s a daring role for the 23-year-old actress, playing against type as the girl with a constant attitude. Yet Ronan embodies a rich livelihood within the character, compelling the audience become deeply invested in her loves and losses.

Integral to the success of the film is Ronan’s fluid chemistry with veteran character actress Laurie Metcalf, who takes the best-written character of her career and turns it into a dominant powerhouse as Lady Bird’s loving yet guarded mother, Marion. The give-and-take between the two actresses is pitch perfect, richly balancing the love between a mother and daughter with the natural separation teenage angst causes in such a relationship.

Both performances feel vivid and authentic due in large part to the care Gerwig puts into the script as well as the effortless syncopation put out on screen between Metcalf and Ronan.

“Lady Bird” is littered with a cavalcade of outstanding supporting performances from the subtle, stoic work of Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father Larry to newcomer Beanie Feldstein’s conventionally- unconventional turn as best friend Julie to even more minor yet pivotal roles from Stephen McKinley Henderson and Lois Smith as instructors at the Catholic school Lady Bird attends.

But the standout secondary performances come from a pair of young male actors, one with an Oscar nomination under his belt and the other sure to earn his first Academy Award nod this spring.

“Manchester By The Sea” star Lucas Hedges does some of his finest work in a small but pivotal role as Lady Bird’s first love Danny. Up-and-coming actor Timothée Chalamet brings a quiet confidence to his James Dean-esque role in the film, which will only propel him forward as a front runner in the best actor category for his work in the drama “Call Me By Your Name.”

It may be difficult to tell at first glance, but Gerwig’s directorial debut has her unique signature stamped all over the film. While many writer-directors allow more free flowing improvisation and ad-lib, Gerwig stresses strict adherence to the written word on the page. This ironically gives actors more freedom to find the characters’ inner voice rather than its literal one and the result is deeper, more intense character study.

There’s also a deep richness to the cinematography, which feels ripped out of the late 60s or early 70s despite its 2002 setting. Cinematographer Sam Levy gives “Lady Bird” a distinct, vintage hue as if a slightly transparent paper covered the camera lens at all times, filling the screen with a lightly faded, yellow tone.
“Lady Bird” should be a virtual lock for any number of awards come this Oscar season. The film is a shoe-in for the best picture and lead actress categories with Ronan a major contender to win early next year. There’s also strong possibilities for the film’s dynamic script in the original screenplay category, Gerwig and Metcalf for best supporting actress. Missing out on a film like “Lady Bird” would be a serious gap on the screening resume of any awards-minded moviegoer.

It’s difficult to adequately describe the feeling you get while watching “Lady Bird” for the first time in theaters. There hasn’t been a film that more accurately depicts the transition out of adolescent life since Mike Nichols’ 1967 powerhouse “The Graduate.”

“Lady Bird” is that good. Be sure not to miss out on one of the decade’s ten best movies. You’ll be doing yourself a major disservice if you don’t see this transformative film at least once.

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