Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith
Director: Greta Gerwig
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widscreen 1.85:1
Features: Commentary, trailers, promotional featurettes
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: March 6, 2018
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
“What if this IS the best version?”
I’ve had an interesting life experience with the novel The Catcher in the Rye. As a preteen, I thought the book said everything I felt about the world. As I got older, I found I identified less and less with Holden Caulfield and more and more with the “phonies” he railed against, especially the teacher who asks him if he really thinks he’s the first person to ever feel the way you do.
I have no youthful eyes with which to watch Lady Bird, which may be a mark against me…I can only view it as I see it now, which is an experience of being maddeningly trapped with self-absorbed kids for 90 minutes. Everything is a crisis. They think their home lives and towns are the worst. Although the film takes place in 2002, it reeks of millennial self-importance…these are very much like today’s kids who eat Tide Pods one week and then lecture us on the REAL meaning of the 2nd Amendment in the next.
It stars Saoirse Ronan in the title role…her name is actually Christine, but she’s opted for Lady Bird, explaining to a priest in her Catholic school that it IS her given name because she gave it to herself.
She’s born and raised in Sacramento and dreams of getting out…like most high schoolers, she believes real life is what’s happening in a different city. Her parents (Metcalf and Letts) aren’t rich, but have sacrificed much to put her into her current school away from a dangerous public one, but Lady Bird’s whole existence seems to be dreaming about getting to New York and going to some prestigious school she likely can’t afford or even be qualified to attend.
The film is choppy and episodic, going from one scene to another with very little real flow. Gerwig flaunts a few meaningless winks at critics, by having her scoff at a picture of Reagan and having kids read the anti-America tome A People’s History of the United States. Critics indeed praised the film and Ronan’s performance (which, especially considering her strong Irish accent in reality, is quite good).
But is it insightful? Well, it rings out with some basic truths that are not exactly eye-openers. Kids rebel, parents aren’t appreciated…there’s the obligatory first-sex scene and the scene where Lady Bird, upon turning 18, buys cigarettes, a lottery ticket and a Playgirl.
In the end, she gets her wish, but one last phone call to her parents’ answering machine seems to show an awakening. She’s beginning to appreciate what she left behind. I can identify; I spend most of my life anxious to leave my hometown of Jacksonville. I came back after two years and have loved this city ever since.
Many have that experience, but again, it’s hardly a revelation. If it is, it certainly isn’t worth the time spent wallowing in teen self-pity to finally reach. What is the message? There’s no place like home? Another movie already did that, in a far more entertaining way.
I cannot speak for the young of today…will Lady Bird become their Rebel Without a Cause? Their Breakfast Club? Their Welcome to the Dollhouse? I can’t say…I’d like to believe they are smarter and more demanding than that. But then I remember the Tide Pods.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of budget for this movie, and the visual look betrays that; colors are muted, images aren’t photographed for sharpness and detail, and as a result, there’s not a lot to look at. It’s serviceable, but nothing more.
The uncompressed soundtrack serves the dialogue well, but there’s nothing special here in terms of staging or dynamic range. It also boasts a terrible song score, especially for someone who thought the Dave Matthews Band had finally dropped off the radar.
The extras include a nice commentary from writer/director Gerwig, as well as a few trailers and promotional featurettes.
I wanted to like Lady Bird more than I did, and am willing to admit maybe that says more about me than it does about the movie. Maybe it’s meant for those who still see the most basic truths of life as earth-shattering. Perhaps the end point is a good one; in this case, it’s just not worth the journey it takes to reach it.