New drama stuns

With a cunning sense of direction and extraordinary acting all around, Greta Gerwig’s first solo directorial effort transcends the genre in a vivid portrayal of adolescence, independence, and the messy relationships between prevailing aspiration and unconventional family.

It effectively rises above the tropes it could have so easily fallen into. Each and every second of dialogue is believable, so much so that you’ll likely recall specific personal memories that indirectly connect to the questions each character is fumbling to answer. Its refreshing inclusion of and focus on strong, dynamic, and genuine women was deftly executed. “There’s not gonna be one guy, there’s gonna be two, and they’re both wrong,” says Gerwig on her approach, in a reversal of common character tropes. Such a premise leads to Gerwig’s heartfelt encapsulation of the strengths and struggles during a rambunctious teen’s metamorphoses of inner dialogue and self-belief.

Each character’s inherent realness demands your attention, and—rather quickly—your adoration and care. Not all vignettes call for a character’s love, but their genuine portrayals lead to a genuine care about how they interact with each other and end up.

Saoirse Ronan pulls off, arguably, the performance of her career as an inherently flawed, inconsistent, introspective, and yet irreconcilably endearing lead. “Lady Bird,” as she calls herself—not the Christine her parents gave her at birth—is often at ends with her demanding mother, and when she’s not trying to navigate family complications, she’s trying to reconcile her own evolving belief system with her Catholic school education. She’s hypocritical one moment and genuine the next, her distinct personality shining through in each and every harrowing instant of rebellion (that often land her in trouble). Most of the course of Lady Bird’s teenage years are driven by her insistence on asserting her individuality in all aspects of her life, even though it’s clear she’s struggling to make sense of that exact desire and its implications on the ones she loves most. She dreams of New York culture, but treasures her first California drive behind the wheel.

Her growing pains are relatable in that they are a result of her discovering her sense of self and navigating long-held and new relationships, but what keeps her character so interesting is how she makes decisions based on these messy propagations. She’s a natural rebel, but she has a cause that she’s still trying to figure out and a heart that finds itself constantly changing its opinions on just how it wants to be mended and broken.

Gerwig, the sole director and screenwriter, will have you clutching your stomach in laughter one moment and tearing up at a philosophical character development the next. It packs quite a few surprising punches in emotional and physical transformation—how Lady Bird ends up in a “fuck you mom” arm cast, and how she navigates her way through the peaks and pitfalls of love and attraction with radically changing friends surrounding her all the way. Although such drastic changes in mood often end up over-dramatized in many films, the strength of the script shines through in each actor’s revelatory work. There are legitimate explosions of emotion (a raised voice argument in a Goodwill abruptly ending with the perfect dress) and heartbreaking truths revealed (the strains of Lady Bird’s romantic and familial relationships) in equal parts.

An opus of emotion worthy of all the awards it gets, Lady Bird is a must-see film of the year. If not for the excellent direction and daring performances, it’s for all the intrinsic philosophical gold to be mined from its distinct yet recognizable characters. You won’t soon forget it.

Lady Bird is in theaters now, currently reigning as the highest-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes and already nabbing awards for Ronan’s bold performance and Gerwig’s triumphant direction.