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Laramie Movie Scope: Lady Bird

Coming of age story, girls only

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 1, 2017 – Coming of age stories have been done to death, but mostly they are about boys, in movies written and directed by men. This film is written and directed by Gretta Gerwig, best known as an actress in indie films like “Frances Ha” and “Maggie's Plan,” so it is a bit different.

Knowing this, you would expect there are some very meaty roles for women in this script, and there are, but there are also a couple of good parts for men. The film's star Saoirse Ronan of “Brooklyn” plays the title character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a somewhat rebellious high school senior whose family moves to Sacramento, and she is not happy about it. Actually, she isn't happy about much of anything.

Lady Bird (not her real name, but a made up name she insists upon) has frequent clashes of will with her mother, Marion (played by Laurie Metcalf of “Stop-Loss”) who is worried about the family's finances. Marion is working double shifts at a hospital to support her family, so she is constantly harping on Lady Bird because of her wasteful habits. Marion is opposed to Lady Bird's plans to attend an east coast college because of the expense to their financially-strapped family.

As the film goes on, there are some very emotional conflicts between Lady Bird and her mother. The climax comes when Marion finds out that Lady Bird and her husband, Larry (Tracy Letts of “The Big Short”) have secretly applied for a college loan which will obligate the family to mortgage the family home. This loan would not only affect Lady Bird's parents, but her brother, whose own future plans may be negatively impacted by this.

That is not the only thing that Lady Bird does that seems selfish and underhanded. She also steals the grade book from her high school math teacher and disposes of it in the trash in order to boost her high school grades so she can get into an east coast college. She lies about her grades to her math teacher, who has to take her word for it since he has no backup record, or adequate recollection, of her test scores. He is forced to rely on an “honor system” to restore the grade records.

Lady Bird's defense for these actions are twofold. One, she just feels entitled to go to a New York college. Two, she feels badly about what she has done, but not badly enough to admit it, or to accept punishment for it. This is something like an equivalent to traditional white male privilege in America. Perhaps it only seems wrong because it is being done by a woman in this case.

The only person, other than her mother, who calls her out for this behavior is her adopted brother, Miguel (played by Jordan Rodrigues) whose skin color and first name means he can't get away with the same kind of behavior his Caucasian sister can get away with. Lady Bird, in a counter-argument, says Miguel gets undeserved privileges because of minority rules aimed at increasing diversity. This argument is a political minefield, factoring into elections where white voter resentment of supposed minority privileges is used to get votes for white supremacist candidates.

Saoirse Ronan has made a career of playing victims, but this is a departure in that she is actively engaged in a kind of family sabotage, with her kindly, but weak father as enabler. What remains the same from earlier Ronan films though, is that excuses are manufactured for her character, which is portrayed in a sympathetic manner: Young, naive, well-meaning, outspoken, innocent, virginal (at least at first). This film, however, at least hints at the ugly truth that others will bear the cost of Lady Bird's narcissism, neediness, and her sense of entitlement during the financial meltdown that will soon occur.

This kind of narcissism, neediness, resentment and entitlement are playing out on a grand scale in American politics right now, and the ultimate cost of this could prove to be too terrible to imagine. This film puts it into a personal perspective, embodied in one person. Lady Bird feels bad for what she had done to her family, but it looks like that is not going to stop her from doing whatever it takes to get what she wants.

The rest of the film is standard coming of age stuff, where Lady Bird experiments with sex and alcohol. She discovers a secret about her boyfriend, Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges of “Manchester by the Sea”) but naturally only thinks about Danny's problems in terms of her own disappointment. She lies to make it appear her family is rich in order to attract friends in her Catholic school's social elite. She dumps her best friend, Julie Steffans (played by Beanie Feldstein of “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” ) because she isn't a part of the in-crowd, then is generously taken back, and forgiven.

These are stock high school situations but they are well played. The acting in this movie is really good, especially by Laurie Metcalf, who gives an exceptional performance, and by the scene-stealing Beanie Feldstein. Gerwig's writing and direction are very strong. It is the film's political metaphor, however, that really lifts it above the standard coming of age movie. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]