In many ways, successful movies don’t find new stories to tell; they simply find ways to tell old stories with energy and creativity. So it is with actress and screenwriter Great Gerwig’s directorial debut, the coming-of-age story Lady Bird.
Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is a Sacramento high school senior in 2002. She’s from a struggling working-class family, with a strong-willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) doing double shifts and a recently out-of-work father (Tracy Letts). Christine longs to escape the confines of Sacramento and her Catholic high school for New York’s more sophisticated environs.
There’s not a whole lot in the way of plot here. Ronan joins the drama club, has some fights with her parents and her friends, and has romantic entanglements with two boys (Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet).
But there doesn’t need to be much plot. The performances are strong (especially Ronan), the characters are sharply drawn, and the script is often funny. Where Gerwig excels as a screenwriter is her empathy. There’s a vivid sense of place in her depiction of Sacramento, and while we see why Ronan might feel stifled, we also see that it’s not a bad place, either. The same is true of her school; Ronan’s character isn’t Catholic and has no interest in being one, but the school’s faculty are depicted as sincere and well-meaning.
There’s a good chance Lady Bird will see some Oscar nominations, especially in the acting (Ronan and Metcalf) and screenwriting (Gerwig) categories.