“Lady Bird” Doesn’t Meet High Expectations
I have a rule for myself about the pace at which I watch films:I refuse to watch more than one film per day. This is how I give the art a chance to breathe. I like to reflect on the experience, and it is in this waiting period that I begin to really appreciate what a film is trying to say. Almost exclusively, the reflection process is as exciting as watching the film itself. However, something about “Lady Bird” was not engaging enough for me to care about it once I left the theatre.
“Lady Bird” is the most critically acclaimed movie in the history of Rotten Tomatoes. Not that I really look to this source at all, but I think a lot of people who go to see the film will go into it with knowledge of this praise. Critics are losing it over “Lady Bird,” and the pressure to fall in love with the film is rising.
But something in the experience was missing for me. I really enjoy Saoirse Ronan’s work, and she is really good in this as well. The only thing that bothers me is that her roles seem to have taken a step back, not in depth, but in the age that her characters are. I would’ve expected that Ronan would start playing characters in their mid-20’s rather than in their senior year of high school, especially now that we’ve seen in her take on independent roles like in 2015’s “Brooklyn.”
Still, Ronan’s performance is strong for what it is, and the ensemble cast on the whole does a fantastic job. Laurie Metcalf is a highlight as the title character’s difficult mother, who I found myself rooting against for most of the film. That’s not a knock on Metcalf’s performance at all, but maybe something I generally don’t feel about parental characters in movies like this. On the other hand, the standout character for me was Lady Bird’s father, played by Tracy Letts. This is a film that takes the time to flesh out the mother-daughter connection, but it was nice that they didn’t completely neglect the father figure. Having both parents in the picture adds a family element that might get lost in a similar type of film.
Other than Lady Bird’s complicating home life, her relationships at school are also well-documented. The pace is consistent while trying to juggle these two rarely intersecting storylines, but it all felt extremely slow at the time. Had I been more invested in Lady Bird’s school predicaments, it probably would have been more effective. Instead, the hour and a half-long movie felt like a slow burn.
“Lady Bird” comes off as annoyingly pretentious. I bring up the stakes of fictional situations a lot in reviews like this, and they always seem incredibly low in “Lady Bird.” When the main character starts getting moody, the melodrama comes off as forced. This usually only works, though, if there is more tension between characters and their environment, or if the script plays it off for laughs. For the record, “Lady Bird” doesn’t handle the latter option too well. On the whole, Greta Gerwig’s script feels genuine, but I think it goes too far into the late high school questioning at certain times.
There’s another aspect of “Lady Bird” that sometimes comes up directly, and I think it guides the tone. It’s set in 2002, and the post-9/11 paranoia of that time is beautifully addressed. It fuels a lot of Lady Bird’s conflict with her mother’s expectations, which in turn is probably when “Lady Bird” is at its best. Putting the unrest of war in the background of the film justifies a solid amount of Lady Bird’s quirkiness. In addition, acknowledgment is paid to the world before cell phones, another rarity in a modern coming-of-age story. It calls back to a time that was just becoming more complicated, but was inhabited by characters that struggled , maybe ironically, to communicate in a meaningful, human way
Gerwig’s cast and crew took this material to heart, and the effort pays off in that it tells an otherwise overdone coming-of-age story in a slightly more chaotic way. But for a film that has been so well-reviewed, I was expecting a bit more. Even if I had no expectations, “Lady Bird” would have still left me disappointed, as it has a tone that oozes pretentiousness. It is, dare I say, not really fun to watch. Maybe the point was to have the film be plain, but that doesn’t help the audience. I might need to watch this once over again, because I feel like I may have missed something that, apparently, has not alluded everyone else.