What a generous and attentive film. There are stories everywhere you look. It’s kind of like Star Wars in that way. Every corner of the Lady Bird galaxy teems with life. But it never feels crowded. For all the half-dozen or more characters on display here—each interesting enough, really, to star in their own film—Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut, manages without fail to give them enough room to breathe. Sometimes it’s an extra scene here or there. Sometimes an extra line, or wink, or smile. Perhaps an eye roll. Sometimes it’s the exact right amount of nothing as one sometimes finds in an empty parking lot.
This is Sacramento, at the turn of the millennium. Lady Bird is a catholic school girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Her parents try their best as parents so often do. Lady Bird feels, as many children often do, that whatever it is their parents are trying, it’s not working. Lady Bird has a friend or two. One of them is the best. She finds a boyfriend. They tell stories to each other about the stars. She tries her hand at song and dance. Her best friend does better. Her boyfriend does best. Lady Bird isn’t unhappy with her life. But, she isn’t happy either. If you asked her, I think she would probably say that her life, her real life, hasn’t started yet. I think she’s trying her best to get things going, though.
I first saw Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, though I didn’t know it at the time. I saw her again in Grand Budapest Hotel. And then again in Brooklyn . Also, Hannah. Here she is Lady Bird. Every time I see her it feels like the first time. I think this is a magic not everyone possesses. Imagine living every day as though it was not the last day of your life, but the first. Imagine possessing such brave wonder.
We begin our journey with Lady Bird waking up next to her mom. They are in a hotel bed. They are as close as two people can be without falling into each other. Later, Lady Bird’s mom drives her home. Or tries to. Lady Bird jumps out along the way. Much later, Lady Bird learns to drive herself. And when she drives around Sacramento, we see an echo of this earlier drive. And in that echo, echoes of all the times her mom drove her anywhere. This is cinema as it can be. As poetry. All rhythm and rhyme. The world glimpsed by a girl through the windows of her mom’s car. The memory of home.
Gerwig, through the glimpses she gives into the lives of all of her characters, allows us a similar gift. We watch them grow into themselves. We watch as they, and we, come to see them for who they truly are. This is a film that rewards attention. This is a film with which you fall deeper in love the more you think about all that you have seen. I suspect this is one of those films, like The Shawshank Redemption, which will grow only more beloved with time.
About two-thirds of the way through the film, after Lady Bird has discovered new kinds of friends and new kinds of pain, after she and her mom have fallen out again, as they seem to keep doing, one of the more awesome nuns at the school tells Lady Bird something that she needs to know. She tells her that maybe attention is a form of love. This strikes me as one of the harder truths to learn and to accept. People are always telling us to pay attention. As though it should cost us something to see things, and people, as they truly are. I don’t know that we always consider the costs, but I think this is a cost most of us want to be willing to pay. I suspect, though, that for many children, as with Lady Bird, it is a cost they don’t always want to bear.
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