For one hot second, Lady Bird was ranked 100 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, breaking Toy Story 2 (opens in new tab)’s record as the best-reviewed flick in the site’s history. Of course – as T-Swift might say – haters gonna hate, so that streak is now blemished. But it’s testament to the universal appeal of this deft and moving bildungsroman, which takes a well-worn genre and delivers a near-perfect refresh brimming with brio, tenderness and authenticity.
It’s a film informed by writer/director Greta Gerwig’s own sleepy-town, Catholic-infused adolescence. Saoirse Ronan plays the titular 17-year-old, who bemoans her lower-middle-class existence in 2002 Sacramento. Lady Bird yearns for the perceived ‘culture’ of the East Coast, romance and an escape from her nagging mum (Laurie Metcalf) – while navigating college applications, cherry-popping and the complexities of friendship.
As scripted by Gerwig (nailing teen cadence) and toplined by a never-better Ronan, Lady Bird is a delicious, recognisable creature of contradictions: pretentious and sweet, blind-sided and clear-eyed, a cliché and a firebrand. She rages against the parental machine without understanding the tax of adulthood, beautifully illustrated by Metcalf’s pragmatic cancer nurse mum and Tracy Letts’ depressed, laid-off dad.
She’s determined to lose that pesky virginity to one of two suitors; Lucas Hedges’ confused posh boy Danny, or Timothée Chalamet’s vapid cool guy Kyle. And she’s working out the merits of true sisterhood versus schoolroom social climbing.
If this all sounds like any number of high-school flicks, you’re not wrong. But while Gerwig isn’t reinventing the wheel, she is redefining it for a wider audience. Nuanced enough to feel effervescent and effortless, this precision-crafted screenplay takes in nostalgia, class, the American Dream, mental health, sexual orientation and the healing properties of having a good cry while eating an entire cheese.
It’s unflinching, but never snide. We’re invited to laugh at Lady Bird’s plain annoying tendencies as well as Kyle’s teen-hustler dickish moves (“You’re going to have sooo much un-special sex”) without judgement. And Sacramento is lensed in such an affectionate and wondrous way to render it arthouse beautiful.
Everyone from Lois Smith’s twinkly, realist nun to Metcalf’s loving buzz-kill are on their A-game. But the film naturally belongs to Ronan, who seduces viewers with a performance of such unvarnished truth and raw emotion that you’ll be rooting hard for her to one day find that ‘special’ sex in the East Village she so naïvely craves. Hella good.