3 1/2 (out of 4)
Greta Gerwig's previous screenwriting credits included co-writing her boyfriend and accomplished independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s recent and best films Frances Ha and Mistress America, the titular roles of which she took over. The spiritual succession of those efforts leads us to a rich and piquant writer-director debut for Gerwig. Lady Bird is a mirror to the Gerwig's past; a director's youth reassessed. And for once the image is not of herself and out of her delicate and charmingly clumsy hands.
Saoirse Ronan isn't what you would call a stand-in though. Both Baumbach/Gerwig features drew a warts-and-all portrait of two young women – Frances' rendering was loving and poignant while Brooke's was a near-condemnation of a complex character, epitomizing the pitfalls of idolizing our near-elders. Lady Bird finds Gerwig at her most self-aware and yet most removed from her work, with 15 years of adult experience to reflect on the transformative times of living through senior year of high school (Catholic at that).
The aura of autobiography here is elevated to universality by her easy alignment with the milestones of the average 18-year-old into a three-act narrative. There may be a tad too many affected jokes within the script that could have been dialed back in order to make Lady Bird’s lovely, frank tone – and even the character – that much more true to life, but Gerwig’s way with humor is just as subtly stinging as her partner's.
Labeling Lady Bird as a contemporary coming of age film does not credit Gerwig properly for all the revelations she manages to invoke without trying hard at all. The hopeless passive aggression between passionate children and their insecure parents, the indelicacy of young lust, the comfort of best friendship, the rapidly changing ideas of self, the dread at the notion of not unlocking your own potential – it's all here.
Gerwig's poetically has rewarded herself and cineastes by realizing her actual potential in the process of turning her age of greatest uncertainty into a film of soft sublimity. She spares neither the bliss nor the heartbreak in recreating the yearning for self-actualization.
To keep it brief...