Lady Bird is the most positively reviewed film of all time. That is to say it holds the record for the longest unspoiled streak of positive reviews as determined by Rotten Tomatoes, overtaking the last record holder, Toy Story 2.
Greta Gerwig’s debut film (she is credited as the sole writer and director) is adored the world over, and I think that’s because everyone can see a tiny bit of their teenage selves in Christine ‘Ladybird’ McPherson, who is played by Saoirse Ronan. Lady Bird is a classic coming-of-age teen drama, but self aware enough to be one of the best in its genre. The characters say things you would hear a normal person saying. They are emotional and irrational, just like real people.
The film is set over the school year of 2002/2003, and follows Lady Bird as she navigates a world of firsts in her last year of High School: falling in love, applying for College, ditching her best friend for one she deems cooler, having sex for the first time, daydreaming of the future, fighting with her Mum. Her complicated, hot and cold relationship with her mother sets the tone for the whole film, and Gerwig doesn’t romanticize the McPhersons’ struggles with money, either. When her mother Marion (played by Laurie Metcalf) reprimands Lady Bird’s demanding attitude after her Dad, Larry, loses his job, Lady Bird responds with a smart but immature tantrum. She insists her mother give her “a number” and tell her how much it cost to raise her, insisting “I’m gonna get older and make a lot of money and write you a cheque and never speak to you again.” Marion retorts “I doubt you’ll get that good of a job.”
Lady Bird is seeking more than what her current circumstances offer her. She wants to be cooler than she is, richer than she is, happier than she is. It’s a teacher at her Catholic Girls High School who opens her eyes to her real feelings about Sacramento, the place she desperately wants to escape for New York City. After reading her college entrance essay, Sister Sarah Jone says “You write about Sacramento so affectionately, and with such care.” “I guess I just pay attention” replies Lady Bird, not wanting to offend. “Don’t you think they are the same thing?” says Sister Sarah Joan. “Love and attention?” Lady Bird seems only half-convinced, but by the end of the movie it’s clear that the lesson has sunk in. Growing up means learning to love the world for what it is.
Lady Bird is endearing, and a teen movie through and through. What puts it ahead of the pack, though, is that it’s a damn good one. It’s coming to New Zealand cinemas on February the 15th. Put it in your diary.