So many things we yearn for at seventeen that the resulting confusion and the impossibility to stay focused might be the age's defining trait, a volatility in spirit that befits the nickname of the heroine Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan. More 'bird' than 'lady', she flickers from one ear who'd listen to a mouth who'd advise with one unshakable certitude in her mind: she wants to leave Sacramento, a city that became the epitome of static boredom.
Indeed, if there's one thing we resent at seventeen: it's boredom, even nerds want to have fun ... at seventeen, we're all little birds who want to learn about flowers and bees. Now, being a teacher in a Catholic secondary school, handling kids from eleven to fifteen every day, I was wondering whether the film wasn't infantilizing teens much, guilty of a nostalgia-driven naivety, but in fact Lady Bird's immaturity says a lot about how things have changed since 2002, when teens weren't young adults but plain teens.
In that palindrome of a year, the second after 1991, I turned 20. 1999 wasn't too far and at seventeen, I was wondering how I was going to celebrate the New Millennial. Eventually, I went with my best friend in a restaurant full of adults, I looked ridiculous with my white shirt and a black vest borrowed from my uncle, my buddy was a big stocky guy wearing a purple shirt and beige pants with side pockets, and boots, and as if it wasn't enough we had to wear cones... so we celebrated 2000 in a "Superbad" way and after that we went for a night walk in our equally boring hometown, I'll forever cherish even the lamest memories.
Sorry for the digression but in a film where a girl can suddenly jump off a car, unpredictability shouldn't be a big deal. So I was saying kids would laugh today at Lady Bird and her impressionability when it comes to the things of s-e-x, but it's not about what the film shows but what it doesn't, even I was caught off guard. The environment looked so familiar that I forgot it was a time without social networks, when wireless phones were only used for communication, mail still meant paper and that went for adult magazines too (I plead guilty for that one) and the one shot on a computer is the father (Tracy Letts) playing solitaire.
I love how subtle these indications are (though the references to September 11's aftermath get a bit repetitive), Greta Gerwig doesn't overuse the context but builds around it the emotional bonding between Christine and her world. With her strong personality, she would definitely be on Instagram today and posting videos where she rants about her Mom, I didn't notice how lucky we were to escape from that, we were immature in a time that allowed us to grow up. And "Lady Bird" is quite the coming-of-age story.
And it's tricky to make a good coming-of-age story because you've got to draw an audience into liking a character who might not have anything to do with you, generation-wise.
Here's another digression: coincidentally, the film I saw before was "I Never Sang For my Father", a movie made a decade before Gerwig would be born, but I found in the tense relationship between Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas some eerie parallels with the mother-and-daughter issues between Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, showing that some things just never change. Both films depicted that failure to communicate, the same obsession for the mother to keep her daughter close to her (the father didn't want his 40-year old son to remarry and go to California), it was out of protective instinct because parents know life better as the ones who make ends meet, so they don't allow children to make the same mistakes, they forget one thing, mistakes are part of the learning... that's the parents' mistake.
There's a beautiful moment where Christine tries on new clothes for the prom and one thing leading to another, she asks her mother why can't she have a nice word for once, the mother tries to get away with a "I love you". But what follows is such an intelligent aversion of that cliché I daren't to spoil it, the film might be one of the best written of recent years, it doesn't try to sound "hip" all the time like "Juno" but unveils a real wisdom and acute knowledge of people's vulnerability, no one is to compliment or to blame, and Lady Bird isn't a pretentious nickname (nor the films is) but a pious hope.
So many things have been said about Gerwig's nomination for directing but this has been diluted in a year of gender-driven polemics while the film flies over these considerations with the lightness of a hummingbird, and the writing didn't get the credit it deserved. The actors all excel but with such beautiful lines, you can't miss, I was impressed by how realistic and down-to-earth the film was, made by someone young enough to relate to Lady Bird and old enough to take some perspective and admit that parents weren't wrong.
"Lady Bird" follows a simple chronological storyline, filled with romantic subplots (Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet play the opposite love interests), interactions with friends (including Beanie Feldstein as the BFF) but just when the film swims in familiar waters, Gerwig avoid the usual traps: drugs, violence, social comments etc. and proves that the best way to keep an edge is not to try to be edgy all the time... this is a sweet movie whose ending resonated deeply in my Millennial heart.