MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf
If you ask most people to describe their years in high school, the majority will probably say that they were rather painful and they couldn’t wait to graduate. The rest will say that they were enjoyable, but they couldn’t wait to graduate. Let’s face it – by the time junior year comes along, you’re thinking about what you want to do after high school. But, in the meantime, you are also trying to figure out dating and relationships, ever-changing friendships, extracurricular activities, and (for Christians) faith and life, while also trying to relate to your parents as almost-young-adults.
It’s no wonder that first novels by young writers are often coming-of-age stories; there’s a lot to work with, and the memories are so fresh. Greta Gerwig, the writer and director of Lady Bird, films in her hometown of Sacramento, California, and many of the details are informed by her life as a teenager. But Gerwig is 34 years old and has been acting and writing for film and television since she was a teenager. Her maturity and wit informs every part of this film, and her characters are endearing and real.
Christine McPherson (Ronan) has just about everything that a youth could want, but never quite enough. She attends a private Catholic high school but her mother (Metcalf) works a double shift as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital to support the family. Her dad has just lost his job. Their family lives in the modest part of town “on the bad side of the tracks”. Christine would like to go out east to college. Although she is creative and bright, she can’t master math and exasperates many of her teachers. Her mother is convinced that she should settle for a local community college. Christine has chosen the persona of “Lady Bird” rather than her given name and is inclined to draw herself as a human/bird hybrid. Sometimes it’s hard to simply fly away.
Lady Bird’s parents (her dad is played by actor-playwright Tracy Letts) are both loving and caring and the film does a great job showing the different dynamics between mother-daughter and father-daughter relationships. The film is so well written and acted, it is possible to see the love and respect in this family even in the midst of a family squabble.
The kids are great, too. These are intelligent youth who are trying to make their way towards adulthood, without quite making grownup decisions. Christine’s two boyfriends (Lukas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet) are complicated. Her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) is great to goof around with, although their friendship is tested when new friends come along.
I was surprised to see a film that was so respectful of religion and parochial school education. Although the students understandably mock their faith, the nuns and priests who teach the students are presented in caring and compassionate ways. There is a moment of spiritual clarity that takes place late in the film that is offered without irony.
Yes, we’ve seen all of this before, but rarely with such good humor and heart. This film is the best kind of comfort food and one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
Three halos: A charming coming-of-age comedy-drama that’s surprisingly positive about religion.
Three pitchforks: Nothing really rough, but plenty of potentially dangerous teen choices, including premarital sex, smoking tobacco and pot, alcohol, occasional strong language, petty theft, mild sarcasm.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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