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‘Lady Bird’ provides stunning snapshot of adolescent life in Sacramento

Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (left), played by Saoirse Ronan, is incessantly at odds with her stubborn, cynical mother (right), played by Laurie Metcalf. [[both]] The actors bring their respective characters to life with nuance and elegance, earning them both Oscar nominations this year in conjunction with the film's nomination for Best Picture. Photo: A24 Films
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan, is incessantly at odds with her stubborn, cynical mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. Both actors bring their respective characters to life with nuance and elegance, earning them Oscar nominations this year in conjunction with the film’s nomination for Best Picture. Photo: A24 Film.

High school students are possibly the most commonly stereotyped age group, and the tropes are not at all original. “Lady Bird,” directed by Greta Gerwig and up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday, encompasses many of these cliches, ranging from rehearsals for the after-school musical to awkward teen sex, to crushing on a boy in a rock band. However, it manages to do so in a way that feels veritable and not stilted or over-exaggerated.

The story follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she struggles to navigate high school, friendships, romance, and a turbulent relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). In the process, Lady Bird attempts to reconcile her fiery, rebellious nature with her naive, quixotic teen mindset. The film, set in Sacramento, touches on issues encompassing religion, sexuality, financial stresses and mental health.

The acting is excellent all-around. Ronan and Metcalf perfectly encapsulate a strained mother-daughter duo attempting to reconcile their relations with one another. Ronan has earned a Golden Globe Award, three Academy Award nominations, and four British Academy Film Award nominations for her work on “Lady Bird” and other films — and her incredible portrayal of her conflicted, abrasive and lovable character makes it easy to see why. Ronan conveys a full spectrum of emotions through the film, and everything from love to rage is expressed in an authentic and believable manner. Metcalf has won her share of accolades as well, with three Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe nominations.

“Lady Bird” marks Gerwig’s debut as a solo director, but her masterful attention to detail and devotion to the film’s characters made her work rival that of seasoned filmmakers. Gerwig also wrote the film’s screenplay, incorporating tongue-in-cheek humor, genuine emotion, and the distinct voice of each character. Perhaps drawing on her own experiences growing up in Sacramento in the 2000s, Gerwig expertly balances the feel-good nostalgia of a coming-of-age film with realistic hardships of middle-class life. Before becoming a director, Gerwig starred in a multitude of films including “Greenberg” (2010), “Mistress America” (2015), “To Rome with Love” (2012), “Jackie” (2016), and “20th Century Women” (2016).

The costumes are quite simplistic and easy to disregard, especially because Lady Bird is portrayed in her school uniform for the majority of the film. Nonetheless, the film strays away from the tacky trends one would associate with the 2000s in favor of subtle nods to the trends of the 90s. The stylistic choice makes sense considering that Lady Bird often thrift-shops for her clothing. The outfits chosen for special occasions lend themselves to establishing an almost ethereal vibe, suggesting that Lady Bird views coming-of-age events such as the first Thanksgiving with a boyfriend’s family or Prom  with rose-colored glasses.

The film’s soundtrack helps set the different scenes and enhance the moods in the story. The chilling absence of music when Lady Bird goes to New York also sends a strong message, perhaps showing the coldness of the place compared to the warmth and familiarity of Sacramento. Original songs are juxtaposed against casual nods to the 90s with songs such as “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band and “Hand In My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette.

While the film is more a collection of vignettes rather than a complete story of Lady Bird’s life, the style of filmmaking leaves audiences underwhelmed in terms of plot lines. The story maintains a lot of loose ends that are frustrating, and plot points introduced earlier in the film are seemingly forgotten. One is left without knowing what happens to many of the minor characters, as well as how some key relationships in the film end up developing. Though it is refreshing to see a departure from the unrealistic happily-ever-after endings of many coming-of-age movies, by the end of the film, the lack of character development of important figures in Lady Bird’s life makes the film seem unfinished and unsatisfying.

Despite the lack of closure, Lady Bird’s story is one of love, angst and identity that leaves its audience touched by the trials and tribulations of teen life. With its gripping plot, masterful acting, and complementary soundtrack, “Lady Bird” makes a strong candidate for best picture.

1 hour, 33 minutes

Rated R for language, sexual content, brief nudity and teen partying

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet and Laurie Metcalf

About the Contributors
Soumya Jhaveri
Soumya Jhaveri, Editor-in-Chief
Soumya was previously the Voice's News Editor. Her journalism work outside of Voice involves serving as the Editor-in-Chief of [proof] magazine; serving as president of SCOOP, a club fostering diversity in journalism; presentations at NorCal Media Day and the national journalism convention about diversity in journalism and an audio piece for KQED on student health and safety. In her free time, Soumya enjoys competing on Paly's tennis team, playing in an orchestra and drinking boba.
Nisha McNealis
Nisha McNealis, Managing Editor
Nisha is a senior at Palo Alto High School and Managing Editor of The Paly Voice. She also debates for the Paly Speech and Debate team and plays tennis, and she's the co-president of the Girls in STEM Club at Paly. Outside of school and extracurriculars, she loves spending time with friends and watching The Office.