Often, a pivotal moment in any sort of coming of age narrative is the discovery of a parent’s humanity, of their flaws and aspirations, a reduction from spectacle and godhood to flesh and blood. There’s a realization that takes place on the part of the young that the old are at once less and more than they seemed, but it’s a realization doesn’t usually go both ways.
Lady Bird, the debut feature film from writer-director Greta Gerwig, is a film as much about a daughter (Saoirse Ronan) accepting her mother’s humanity as it is about a mother (Laurie Metcalf) accepting her daughter’s. One is no longer an egg in need of guarding, the other no longer a gatekeeper, one no longer in need, the other no longer needed. What then does that relationship become? The painful and uncertain first steps of that transition take place over the course of the titular character’s senior year in a catholic high school in 2002.
Given the subject matter, the perception of authenticity by the viewer is imperative to this film, as it primarily concerns said characters discovering one another’s authenticity.
Written and edited in such a way that moments of personal significance to the protagonist take precedent over the sort of conventional story beats one might expect, Lady Bird feels as though it is being recalled, rather than unraveling, the camera feeling like a knowing eye wading through memory with a sort of surefooted hindsight. It feels like a reexamination of a year in the life of these characters, and the feeling of looking back, the sense that the proceedings have been lived-in, gives those proceedings an air of authenticity beyond the well-written dialogue and organic performances.
Despite its utterly convincing and specific sense of time, place and character, the central experience of Lady Bird is universal. More than an affecting depiction of a young person coming of age, it’s a funny and heartfelt showcase of the slow, uncomfortable compression of the Venn diagram between our perceptions of youth and age.