Too often the suburbia on show in American movies feels like a suburbia that only exists in the movies; a fantasy land stocked with preposterously large, catalogue-neat houses populated by families that boast perfect complexions and expensive teeth. Not so in Lady Bird, set in Sacramento, California, where the glitz of Los Angeles and the fashionability of San Francisco feel very far away. Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a Catholic high school student, lives in a house that has wood-panelled walls and a cramped bathroom with a door that doesn’t lock. Exaggeratedly ashamed of it, she explores affluent neighbourhoods with her best friend, Julie (Beanie Feldstein), selecting dream homes. Her parents, overworked psychiatric nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and recently sacked computer programmer Larry (Tracy Letts), are humiliated by their daughter’s shame, but Lady Bird is heedless of that.
Like many teenagers, Lady Bird (her given name, she insists, because ‘I gave it to myself’) is desperate to overhaul her life, without much notion of how to do so or what it might cost her, materially or otherwise. She meets no real antagonist on her path to self-realisation, for Lady Bird, like another recent coming-of-age film, Call Me By Your Name, is more or less about an experience of time devoid of strife, in which the greatest drama is impending adulthood, which feels, to the teenager, both agonisingly distant and threateningly close at hand. (The central characters in both films are seventeen.)