PLOT A teenager in Sacramento sees college as her ticket out.
CAST Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalfe, Timothée Chalamet
RATED R (adult talk and sexuality)
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4; Manhasset Cinemas; and Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE A brave and tender coming-of-age story from first-time director Greta Gerwig.
“I wish I could live through something,” says Christine McPherson, the bored young heroine of “Lady Bird.” Well, of course she’s young — that’s why she says such ridiculous things. Trapped in suburbia, tethered to a disapproving mother and stifled by her Catholic high school, Christine is a ball of frustration, emotion and ambition. She has only two options: act out, or get out. For much of this movie, she’s intent on doing both.
“Lady Bird” is written by Greta Gerwig and marks her directorial debut (barring a co-credit with Joe Swanberg on “The Naked Truth”). It’s also one of the best movies about adolescence to come along in years. Starring Saoirse Ronan as Christine — whose self-bestowed nickname gives the movie its title — “Lady Bird” is a bittersweet symphony of teenage humiliations, hard knocks, rude awakenings and lessons learned. Set and filmed in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, California, this semi-autobiographical story also brims with love for its characters and, ultimately, for the underdog city that its heroine longs to leave in her rearview mirror.
Like a page ripped from an old diary, “Lady Bird” is a re-creation of notable moments from one girl’s senior year of high school: snacking on communion wafers with her nerdy friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), joining the drama club and falling for fellow actor Danny (a very good Lucas Hedges), then fixating on self-important rock musician Kyle (a wonderful Timothée Chalamet) and kissing up to queen bee Jenna (Odeya Rush). Hovering over everything is Marion, Christine’s difficult mother, a 50-50 blend of love and toxicity played to Oscar-caliber perfection by Laurie Metcalf. The great Tracy Letts is Larry, Christine’s doting but ineffectual father.
The Gerwig persona we’ve come to know from her acting — awkward, affable, endearing — is in every frame of this movie, so much so that your brain might visualize Gerwig, rather than Ronan, playing out a particular scene. That sense of authorship, though, is what makes the movie ring so true. “Lady Bird” feels like a grown woman’s letter to her furious younger self, one that says nothing is so awful, everything is O.K., and someday we’ll all look back on this and laugh.