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Lady Bird gives the coming-of-age tale new wings

Female-led drama leads award season

Photo courtesy of a24 films

It’s one of the best reviewed films of all time, the most talked about film of the year, and the studio’s highest grossing release ever—and most readers probably haven’t seen it. Get acquainted with Lady Bird,  because it is on the fast track to Oscar gold this year.

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is centered around the tenuous relationship between Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a rebellious teenager, and her high-strung mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). The film documents the pair’s relationship over the course of Christine’s senior year of high school in Sacramento, CA. Equal parts comedy and drama, Lady Bird is only 94 minutes long, but its succinct script allow the contents of nearly 12 months of a life to be explored with incredible depth and tenderness.

The film stars 23-year-old Ronan, an Irish actress, as the artistic Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson who dreams of leaving Sacramento and attending college in New York.

Ronan is an incredibly talented performer. She’s already been nominated for two Oscars, and she perfectly executes her role as Christine—so much so that Gerwig postponed the filming of Lady Bird for six months so that it would accomodate Ronan’s schedule.

Ronan understands and makes evident the vulnerability of a high schooler, someone who longs for acceptance and hopes to find her niche. She half-speaks, half-mumbles lines, slouches constantly, and expertly displays the duality of life at school versus life at home. It’s all the more impressive that she understands these details considering she’s been homeschooled since 14.

The way Ronan interacts with Metcalf is authentic. They communicate both verbally and nonverbally, with eyerolls and misconstrued body language. In one scene, Marion asks Christine if she needs to rest because she is dragging her feet, which leads to an inevitable public shouting match between the two.

It’s moments like this that make Lady Bird stand out from the crowded genre of coming-of-age films. Christine’s relationship with her mother is at the film’s core, but Lady Bird is about so much more than the dynamic between two people who struggle to display their love for one another.

Gerwig has expertly crafted a script in which there is no strong central conflict; rather than being aimless, it manages to capture the many concurrent struggles that seem ubiquitous among high schoolers. Lady Bird is about first kisses, school dances, and navigating social circles. But it’s also about “faking it ‘till you make it,” sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and the endless sea of rejection that is coupled with the college application process.

Gerwig manages to mix the mundane nuances of high school life with the exciting moments of becoming an adult, while still never giving a clear sense of beginning, middle, or end. The film flows and meanders through its scenes, inviting the audience to discover life with Christine, rather than portraying a clearly defined path.

Photo courtesy of a24 films.

Lady Bird feels organic and leaves audiences vying for more as the credits begin to roll. It lacks the glamour of an expensive Hollywood production—having a small budget of $10 million—and the film is better for it—kind of like real life.

And just like in real life, not all jokes land, not everything that is dramatic should be, and not all audience members (perhaps a large portion) will be satisfied with the film. It’s not a perfect narrative, but neither is any part of life—another way that Gerwig has hit the mark with her first feature film.

Lady Bird has found itself in a very interesting situation. The film is a huge deal for A24, the studio that released it. The film is set to gross over $30 million,  which makes it A24’s biggest hit yet.

A24’s most well known film to date is last year’s Moonlight, which won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Moonlight made roughly $27 million on a budget of $4 million.

Lady Bird is also one of the best reviewed films—ever—on Rotten Tomatoes with 217 “fresh” reviews to only a single “rotten” review; it’s current score on the website is a 99 percent.

Ronan is considered by many to be the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar this season and has received a nomination for the award. Gerwig is also a big contender, with nominations in both the Directing and Original Screenplay categories. If Gerwig wins, she’ll be the second woman to ever win an Academy Award for Directing behind Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009.

Lady Bird also received two other Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Supporting Actress for Metcalf. The film has already won two Golden Globes: one for Best Picture —Musical or Comedy, and one for Ronan’s performance. Additionally, it was nominated for Metcalf’s performance and Gerwig’s script, though it didn’t win in those categories. The film also received three BAFTA and three Screen Actor Guild nominations.

Lady Bird’s unprecedented honesty and intricate details make it a monumental film, not just for the craft on display within it, but also for the records it is setting and those it has the potential to break in the coming months. ·

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