Living in the Central Valley of California is an experience that is unique to say the least. When you’re a teenager living anywhere in the Valley, in Modesto, or in Bakersfield, or in Fresno, you might be in California, but you can’t help but feeling like you’re a million miles away from the cultural life of Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s a piece of conservative middle America transplanted into the heart of California, a farming community with small town values and Orange County personalities. I can say this because I spent my formative high school years in this part of California. I cannot say that I enjoyed it at all. However, the feeling of the Valley is something that stays with me, even here in the great state of Minnesota.
This feeling is something that I felt through and through in Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird. The film is set in Sacramento, a city at the northern end of the Valley, and follows a high school girl named Lady Bird, portrayed by Saroise Ronan. It follows her through her senior year of high school, dealing with all the stresses of an ambitious teenager who dreams of school in New York and becoming a writer. Her family deals with financial troubles, and she tries to find her identity in a place that doesn’t quite accept her.
This portrayal of Sacramento, a city where the people are vain and self-centered, is a scarily accurate picture. Writer and director Greta Gerwig creates a town full of interesting and variegated characters. Gerwig also crafts some absolutely hilarious and heartbreaking dialogue. It’s clear that her previous collaborations with Noah Baumbach have influenced the way she forms characters and relationships.
Gerwig herself hails from Sacramento, and she really perfects the characterizations of the people in the town. There is a certain honesty and truth to each character, and it’s clear that a lot of thought was put into crafting the world surrounding the characters themselves. From Catholic high schools to early-2000s coffee shops, each setting has a definite character and feel. The story is ultimately thought-provoking and empathy-inducing, making it an absolute joy to watch.
The writing is complemented by Ronan’s incredibly strong performance. She gives Lady Bird an honesty and a realism that I don’t know would have been accurately portrayed by another actress. She steals the show with her quirkiness, her style and her biting comedic timing. An honorable mention goes to Lucas Hedges, who plays Lady Bird’s love interest, Danny O’Neill. Hedge plays O’Neill with a sense of vulnerability that complements Ronan’s performance. Even the minor characters are really well-portrayed and fleshed out. The actors feel real and honest, and it is a comfort to watch them perform.
If there is any place where the film is ultimately lacking it is in the visual direction. This film is Gerwig’s feature directorial debut and in general she does a good job. However, the film isn’t the most visually interesting. At times it feels like watching a television special and feels plain to look at. While simplicity isn’t necessarily a problem when there is a clear focus on character and action, some visual buildup could help the film immensely in terms of being visually stronger.
That being said, this is a good start for Gerwig as a director and I’m excited to see where she goes from here. She has a lot of talent with her pen, but I would like to see where she will go with her camera.
Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful film. It exceeds almost every other teen comedy/drama film by a country mile (I’m looking at you, Paper Towns), and establishes Gerwig as a real up and coming filmmaker.
I’m giving this one an 8/10.
by Justin Secor