The most revelatory thing about Lady Bird is how much it resembles, tonally if not visually, Frances Ha. That film, directed by Noah Baumbach, starred and was cowritten by Greta Gerwig. It's a lovely film that bears little resemblance to Baumbach's usual caustic, enervating output – including his subsequent collaboration with Gerwig, Mistress America. That Lady Bird feels like the sister film to Frances Ha tells me that Gerwig shaped that earlier work even more than I had thought.
Gerwig remains behind the camera this time, ceding leading lady status to the always-welcome Saoirse Ronan. Ronan plays Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson – she gave herself the nickname – a quirky but hapless teen whose ups and downs during her senior year at Catholic school are documented in the film. Lady Bird is buoyed by the unusual specificity of its setting – Sacramento in 2002-2003, not far removed from Gerwig's own experiences – and by its lived-in examination of what it's like to be poor and earnest in a community where everyone is wealthy and jaded. Not coincidentally, that's also the theme of Frances Ha. The films may not be strictly autobiographical, but Gerwig has obviously walked in Lady Bird's and Frances's shoes. It's a distinctive and refreshing viewpoint, a standout in the current indie film climate, which has become all too samey-samey.
I have nothing bad to say about this film. It's sweet. It's honest. It's a labor of love through and through. I have not met Greta Gerwig, yet I feel like I know her well after watching Lady Bird, which is about the highest compliment I can pay. The cast is wonderful (especially Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird's complicated, brittle mother), and Ronan is extremely lucky to have now headlined the two most heartwarming films of this young century, the other being Brooklyn. Of course she is greatly responsible for the charm of both films. May she and Gerwig be protected at all costs.