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“Lady Bird” is one of 2017’s best movies

Greta Gerwig shows a mastery of film language in her first solo directing gig.

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) star in the new indie film

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) star in the new indie film "Lady Bird."

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Lady Bird” is a movie which, at least superficially, is incredibly familiar. The story revolves around a girl in her final year of high school as she tries to figure out what really matters to her and personify her idea of a cool, interesting person that’s liked by the “cool” and “interesting” people. It’s the perspective behind the lens however, which makes this coming-of-age autobiographical dramedy a delightful watch.

The indie film hits all its beats with an understated yet confident style that it would not be foolish to assume the movie is the work of a veteran director with a firm understanding of the tools at a filmmaker’s disposal. It happens to be actress and writer Greta Gerwig’s first solo directorial effort.

Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), start the movie sobbing in a car as they listen to the final moments of a recording of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” It’s a beautiful moment of peace that’s swiftly killed when the two begin arguing first about the younger McPherson’s future.

Christine insists on being called Lady Bird, which she later unironically tells a teacher is a given name because she gave it to herself. She wants to escape Sacramento for places such as New York or Connecticut, where she claims, “culture is.” Her mom wonders how her daughter ended up being such a snob. As Marion continues to rant, Christine silently opens the door and jumps out of the car. Marion screams in horror.

In the next scene, a pink cast covers Lady Bird’s now injured arm. The only writing on it is a small “F*** YOU MOM.”

The injury is clearly Christine’s fault; her mother didn’t force her to leap onto concrete at 50 miles per hour. But moments like this showcase the film’s use of visuals to inform us about who these characters are.

Christine’s expressions of frustration are taken as seriously by the film as Marion’s irritation with her daughter’s unappreciative attitude is. This is part of the film’s beauty. It understands that people grow by making mistakes and it doesn’t cast judgment on Christine, her mother or anyone else in the film for doing so.

The movie allows viewers to entertain the idea that perhaps the main character is at fault for her own problems, and maybe even unlikeable. It feels like Gerwig is reflecting on her own experience as a young woman departing high school, but with a hindsight that lets her break past the self-centered attitude Christine has and develop empathy for others who were in her life at the time.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the film takes place in the not too distant 2002 that helps the world of “Lady Bird” feel familiar and relatable, but some credit must also be given to the way that Gerwig packs the film’s setting with rich time-period indicative detail. It’s a recently post-9/11 world where cell phones still aren’t widespread, and these facts are used to develop relationships and inform the characters’ struggles – such as Christine not having a cell phone like some of her more affluent classmates because she’s from a lower economic class.

The entire cast play their parts with a vulnerability that makes them relatable, and an occasional spontaneity which makes them feel less like roles and more as if they were real people who could be found in one’s own neighborhood. “Lady Bird’s” acting being top notch should be no surprise; Ronan received an Academy Award nomination when she was 13 years old and her co-stars include Academy and Tony Award nominees.

The film is abundant with beautiful shots and impressively utilizes colors to contrast characters with their settings and each other, as well as show the development of Lady Bird’s mindset. It isn’t a movie built on being hyper stylized. The style here is to be low key and lifelike.

Conflicts in the film are resolved before the credits roll, but it’s clear that there’s more turmoil to come for the young and rebellious Christine. There’s no sequel hook at the conclusion, but instead an open ending that more closely resembles real life – there will always be more to overcome and that’s a part of growing up.

It’s simple and realistic in content, as well as easy on the eyes and ears in form – which is a welcome change of pace after seeing loud and endlessly shiny blockbusters such as “Justice League” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” This is a movie with no fat to trim but instead one that you wish would play out for even longer than it does. Gerwig capitalizes on the audial and visual aspects of cinema as much as she does her talented cast, and this has helped cement “Lady Bird” among the year’s best movies.

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