Like a million smart, awkward teenagers before her, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a high school emu with soaring-eagle dreams. She can’t wait to shake the dull suburban shackles of circa-2002 Sacramento and race toward the vague but spectacular destiny she knows in her heart she deserves. Though what brilliance the world is waiting to receive, exactly, is unclear: Her grades are average, her extracurriculars close to nil, and her finances about as patchy as her pink dye job.
The loosely autobiographical Lady Bird is actress-writer Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, and it feels like the fullest realization yet of her already-patented brand of gangly bittersweet whimsy. Ronan is a fitting Gerwig proxy, whether she’s downing Communion wafers like Triscuits with her best friend (Beanie Feldstein), pushing her way into the school play, or exploring young lust with sweet drama geek Danny (Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges) and clove-smoking bad boy Kyle (Timothée Chalamet).
But Gerwig doesn’t trap her protagonist in the oblivious underage bubble that most coming-of-age dramedies inhabit; Lady Bird’s parents, played by Tracy Letts and Laurie Metcalf, are fully formed humans with their own deep flaws and vulnerabilities. Their messiness is hereditary but it’s also a gift, the wind beneath their weird little Bird’s wings. A–