By Mario Ricciardi
We love movies about high school. Something about a hormonal mess of a time translates well to us on screen. Youth is wasted on the young unless that youth is put on screen. Whether it’s the honest portrayal in “The Breakfast Club,” a surreal take in “Heathers,” the alternative version in “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” or a period piece like “Dazed and Confused,” we are willing to live high school over and over again in 24 frames per second.
The indie film “Lady Bird” is our latest addition to the genre. As Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson discovers herself through a turbulent senior year, her mother desperately tries to keep their family together through life’s lows. The film takes place between 2002 and 2003, but uses this time period for ambiance instead of relying upon it.
This allows it to transcend and become just as relevant in 2018. Think Wes Anderson, but without the eccentric zaniness. The film tackles the usual lineup of teen issues including social status, sexual exploration, depression, financial woes and family dynamics. “Lady Bird” shakes things up though.
In “The Breakfast Club,” the gang is chased by the school principal in order to hide Bender’s weed in a suspenseful chase that ends in selfless sacrifice. In “Heathers,” Winona Ryder and Christian Slater put their brains together to stop school bullies by colorfully murdering them. “Perks” takes kids you’d find at a speech tournament and processes their inner struggles as fuel for the story. “Lady Bird” does none of this.
As the film moves forward, you hardly notice the defining moments until they’ve passed. Don’t mistake this for a bad thing. “Lady Bird” unobtrusively moves through the extreme ups and downs of adolescence in a way that gives itself an edgy grace.
It is an entertaining story, but by no means does it allow itself to become embellished; it is a story about honesty – honesty with your friends, honesty with your family and honesty with yourself. This theme comes full circle by also being honest with its audience. Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan plays Lady Bird with such lovable awkwardness that it is impossible to stay mad at her. Her performance is second only to Laurie Metcalf’s, who plays Lady Bird’s mother.
The rest of the supporting cast does their leading ladies justice by presenting a loving yet insecure best friend, a depressed father struggling to support his family, a closeted boyfriend, a goth sibling coming to terms with society’s view of him and a freshly realistic group of populars.
Ronan grounds the film as these characters enter and exit Lady Bird’s life, even when she shakes things up. I would not be surprised if Ronan and/or Metcalf get Oscar noms this awards season. Most movies enchant us with the magic of excess, but “Lady Bird” reminded me of the magic in “an average life.”
And trust me, the drama still finds its way, it just takes a backseat to the bigger more beautiful picture “Lady Bird” paints. The film will speak loudest to its female audience for obvious reasons, but I insist that everyone gives it a view.
“Lady Bird” is an all-inclusive eye opening film about the quiet magic of an “average” life.
???? (4/5 Penguins)