Behind the camera for the first time since 2008's Joe Swanberg collaboration Nights and Weekends, Greta Gerwig performs admirably in Lady Bird, an accomplished looking film enhanced by a smart script and strong acting from a talented cast.
But enjoyable as the coming-of-age story is and even with the glee of watching Saoirse Ronan as Christine McPherson, who’s given herself the titular moniker and prefers to be known thusly, the film never quite delivers next-level moments despite seeming consistently on the brink of turning that emotional corner.
Set over our protagonist’s 2002-03 senior year of high school in Sacramento — and, according to the writer/director, not as close to capitol city native Gerwig’s life as has been reported — Lady Bird offers honest depictions of pre-iPhone adolescence as well as wealth disparity.
Scenes conveying the financial struggles of Lady Bird’s nurse mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and computer programmer father Larry (Tracy Letts) feel frighteningly current, as do the professional prospects of her adopted hispanic brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his live-in girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott), Berkeley grads who can’t find work beyond a grocery store.
Further straining the family bank account, but justified by Marion in her lone showing of overprotectiveness, is Lady Bird attending a private Catholic girls school where her best friend Julie (the delightful Beanie Feldstein, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) is seemingly the only other lower-middle-class student.
Out of these confines, Lady Bird develops aspirations of attending an East Coast college, where she believes true culture exists, setting in motion a series of decisions that tests the patience of those who love her most.
The paths taken lead to genuine and generally amusing forays into dating with nice guy Danny (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) and aloof, pretentious Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, Interstellar), plus a tenuous bond with rich girl Jenna (Odeya Rush, Goosebumps), though in balancing it all, the pace proves somewhat inconsistent.
Gerwig’s primary flaw is a tendency to flit from scene to scene, failing to allow ones with knockout potential the time to develop — yet those she approaches with patience lack the comedic and dramatic crackle to break through.
Whether such stratospheric goals are indeed Gerwig’s aim is debatable, but if intelligent, accessible entertainment is her intention, Lady Bird succeeds far more than not, thanks in part to terrific period-appropriate music choices.
Lifted by a throwback Jon Brion score, Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” makes a pleasant appearance and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” provides unlikely accompaniment to several pivotal moments, including the one that comes the closest to greatness.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre