Over the next month, The Atlantic’s “And, Scene” series will delve into some of the most interesting films of the year by examining a single, noteworthy moment and unpacking what it says about 2017. Next up is Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. (Read our previous entries here.)
There’s an appreciable freneticism to Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s wonderful coming-of-age dramedy about a 17-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan) growing up in Sacramento, California, in 2002. The film shuffles from scene to scene with jazzy abruptness, bottling an entire senior year in high school (and the early moments of freshman year in college) into a 95-minute running time. Life-changing events for this protagonist (her father losing his job, acceptance into college, the loss of her virginity) bump up against funnier, more inconsequential ones; it’s one of the most authentic depictions of that tumultuous period on the cusp of adulthood I’ve ever seen in a film. The memories are all there, but Lady Bird (real name Christine, but she’s adopted a more interesting nom de plume) won’t really be able to sort through them all for years to come.
That intense storytelling approach is helped by the period setting—the Iraq War begins during the film, unfolding in the background and dialing up the sense of a world thrown into chaos. But it’s also fueled by the rich, authentic portrayal of Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), which can be aggressive and confrontational in one moment and quietly sweet in the next. In Lady Bird, Gerwig somehow found a new angle on the mother-daughter movie that doesn’t shy away from each character’s flaws but never makes either of them remotely monstrous. Both Lady Bird and Marion have infinite capacity to wound each other, yes, but that’s because of how deeply connected, and at times frighteningly similar, they are. There’s no better example of that than their quiet confrontation in a dressing room near the end of the film, as Lady Bird tries to pick a prom dress.