“Lady Bird” is the story of a teenage girl coming of age in Sacramento and dreaming of a life beyond her family and her hometown. The film is witty and tender, shrewd but not cynical, and quiet, so blissfully quiet.
The plot clipped along at a brisk pace, centered on the relationships between Christine, aka Lady Bird, and the people in her life.
They’re normal people. There’s Lady Bird’s mother, who works as a nurse; her father, who loses his job; her brother, teachers, friends and the high school boys who light up her imagination but who, inevitably, aren’t exactly what she imagines.
It’s a film notable in part for what it lacks.
No car chases. No explosions. No shootings. No monsters. No prurient sex. This is a movie propelled by words, relationships, subtle acting, humor and honesty.
What a relief.
Its feminism is quiet, too. No heroes, no demons, no slogans, no speeches, just Gerwig’s keen vision of a smart young woman with big ideas, a woman like she was at that age, like a lot of young women are.
“Lady Bird” has been a box office hit. The reviews have been raves. On the day I went to see it the show was almost sold out.
But before the moviegoers could see what we came to see, we had to sit through a stream of previews that proved why we need more movies made outside the macho Hollywood box.
I don’t remember the names of most of the big movies Coming Soon to a Theater Near You. I do remember how loud they were, how violent, how full of male stars older than the so-called leading ladies.
There was one film, by a well-known male writer, that seemed to style itself, a little too conspicuously, as having a Strong Female Lead. But throughout the trailer, the actress flaunted stilettos, cleavage and tight short skirts. The other main characters were men. They were tough. A gun was flashed. The camera seemed to leer.
And that was the best of the bunch.
All the trailers on view that afternoon seemed cast in the jaundiced light that has fallen over the movie kingdom lately. It was hard to watch the previews — knowing how many powerful Hollywood men have harassed or assaulted women in the business — and not feel the poison of Hollywood culture leak onto the screen.
Did that actress really want to show so much skin? Whose fantasy was up on that screen? Who’s the audience for that?
And though I know it was just a trick of my imagination, half the men in the previews looked like Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul whose sexual predations helped launch a national revolt against sexual harassment.
Movies aren’t intended to be real life, but they do affect real life. The stories we tell shape how we see ourselves. How we see ourselves affects how we act.
“Lady Bird” helps to widen the lens. It’s exactly the right movie for this fraught moment, in which many people are opening their eyes to the truth of sexual harassment and how it can harm women’s opportunities and view of themselves.
A side note: When I looked “Lady Bird” up on the Box Office Mojo website, curious to see how it’s doing in theaters, I saw two actors listed.
One is Saoirse Ronan, who plays the title character. The other is Tracy Letts, who plays her father.
Letts, a member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble, is a great actor. But so is Laurie Metcalf, also a Steppenwolf ensemble member, who plays Lady Bird’s mother, a more substantial role in the movie. If only two actors were going to be listed, she should have been the second. The damages of sexism often come in such subtle ways.
“Lady Bird” isn’t a woman’s movie. It’s for anyone looking for some relief from the oppression of sexist stereotypes.
It will be a while before women feel significant relief from the sexism that has bound them, but “Lady Bird” — a good movie made by a woman about a young woman who acts on her dreams — is one more step on the long road.