Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf are excellent as a mother and daughter at odds in “Lady Bird.” (Courtesy A24)

Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf are excellent as a mother and daughter at odds in “Lady Bird.” (Courtesy A24)

‘Lady Bird’ an offbeat charmer set in Sacramento

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, is a teen comedy, a mother-daughter story and perhaps the first-ever cinematic valentine to Sacramento. It’s funny, sad, witty, observant and captivating.

Gerwig — best known for writing and acting collaborations with filmmaker Noah Baumbach such as “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” — brings intelligence and offbeat charm to this likable movie.

The story takes place in California’s capital in 2002, where a 9/11-related post-traumatic depression pervades the atmosphere, cellphones are catching on, and the middle class is eroding.

Saoirse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, a smart, headstrong teen who insists on being called Lady Bird.

Lady’s Bird’s forceful personality echoes that of her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a nurse who works extra shifts to keep her middle-class family solvent while Lady Bird’s softer-hearted father, Larry (Tracy Letts), who has his own stresses, looks for work. An older brother (Jordan Rodrigues) rounds out the family.

The story transpires over Lady Bird’s senior year at a Catholic high school, when she falls in love twice — with boy-next-doorish drama-club classmate Danny (Lucas Hedges) and anarchist rocker Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) — and abandons longtime best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) for the richer, cooler Jenna (Odeya Rush).

Longing to leave Sacramento, she constantly quarrels with her judgmental mother, who warns her not to dream beyond her means and is furious when she applies to expensive East Coast colleges.

Though she hasn’t ditched all the cliches of the teen comedy, Gerwig fills the spaces between familiar plot points with funny, original, insightful, emotionally honest material. She applies a satisfying twist to prom night.

Even the minor characters are thoughtfully conceived, with last names on the cast roster and useful bits of back stories.

Gerwig enhances the film with images of Sacramento, where she herself grew up. In one of many winning one-liners, Lady Bird calls the city the “Midwest of California.”

Ronan’s superb comic performance is shaded with feeling. She shines both as an every-teen and as a reflection of her character’s place, time and obstinate but embraceable self.

Metcalf, too, is terrific, both entertaining and saddening as a mom who seems able to express her love for her daughter only by criticizing her.

The two are completely credible as the temperamentally similar — but don’t tell their characters that — mother and daughter.

The opening scene, in which their bickering prompts Lady Bird to jump out of a moving car, is worthy of a time capsule.

Additional memorable moments include an athletic coach directing a Shakespeare play; a school counselor erupting into laughter when Lady Bird mentions Yale; and Marion and Lady Bird touring expensive homes, for kicks.

The movie ends a bit too sweetly, but that’s just a quibble about one of the year’s best comedies.

REVIEW
Lady Bird
Three and a half stars
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges
Written and directed by: Greta Gerwig
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutesGreta GerwigLady BirdLaurie MetcalfMovies and TVSaoirse Ronan

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)
SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large… Continue reading

Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board to vote on future of Twin Peaks Boulevard

The proposal would keep Burnett Avenue gate closed to vehicles, open Portola Drive

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Klein collects crayons from students in the classroom at Lupine Hill Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in Calabasas, California. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom, legislators strike deal to reopen California schools

Taryn Luna and John Myers Los Angeles Times Gov. Gavin Newsom and… Continue reading

A sign about proposed development of the bluff at Thornton State Beach in Daly City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Retreat center proposed at popular state beach

Daly City residents oppose construction on ocean bluffs

City supervisors are calling for an expansion of free summer programs for elementary age kids. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supervisors urge city to provide free summer programs for all SFUSD students

San Francisco supervisors on Monday announced a proposal to expand summer programs… Continue reading

Most Read