Greta Gerwig’s first film, Lady Bird, is not about Lyndon Johnson’s wife, but a 17-year-old (Saoirse Ronan) in Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento, Calif., in 2002. It is so startlingly good that it puts Gerwig up with Clint Eastwood among actors turned directors — although Eastwood never made a film as well reviewed as hers. Gerwig, 34, tells AARP that the masterpiece she wrote and directed is about the older generation, not just the coming-of-age heroine.
Lady Bird is the first mother-daughter hit movie in a long time.
The last big one was probably Terms of Endearment. It’s a double story because one person’s coming of age is another person’s letting go. I was interested in telling both sides. I wanted it to be unexpectedly more emotional, and more about the older generation, than people think it will be. It’s a thank-you to the person who gives you roots and wings.
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Your movie has an ending like The 400 Blows and a first scene, with the mom and daughter asleep, that seems very Persona (Ingmar Bergman’s 1967 Liv Ullmann-Bibi Andersson classic).
Very Persona! You see they’re the same, in a way, in a moment of tranquility between them only possible in unconsciousness. Then you see Laurie [Metcalf, playing Ronan’s mother] making the bed. That tells you everything about the character without words — only a certain kind of mother would make the bed in a motel.
Laurie Metcalf, 62, is on a big career roll — she got the Roseanne show revived on TV, and she’s on Supergirl and The Big Bang Theory.
I grew up without TV, so I’d never seen Roseanne, but I’d seen her in Chicago at Steppenwolf and in Misery on Broadway, one of the most extraordinary performances I’d ever seen.
Your movie is very theatrical, in good ways. Tracy Letts, 52, who won the Pulitzer for August, Osage County, plays Lady Bird’s dad. Stephen Henderson, 68, who plays Lady Bird’s Sondheim-loving drama teacher, won a Drama Desk Award. Your dialogue is a little theatrical.