Greta Gerwig, whose new film Lady Bird will open in November, tends to play characters crippled by distraction—young go-getters with big dreams and limited attention spans. Gerwig herself wrote and directed Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story that doubles as a mother-daughter film, a perfect container for quietly brilliant performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. But like most other films produced by a generation I’d hesitantly deem “millennial,” (and, given that Gerwig is in fact 34, this term barely applies) Lady Bird is also a film that plays in a familiar sandbox of texts: sources as wide-ranging as Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, here a kind of blueprint or male spiritual prequel, and Kenny Ortega’s High School Musical, whose classical structure inspired not only a slur of Disney-spawn sequels but also affirmed a specific brand of contemporary coming-of-age comedy-dramas that has had no small influence on films about young people in the last decade.

That is not to say, of course, that Gerwig’s work is merely derivative. Lady Bird flaunts her distinct humor, which manages quirks without sacrificing laughs, and she pulls a number of great performances from actors young and old. (The roles of the Millenial Parents, for instance, are worked well here by Tracy Letts and Metcalf, respectively). What’s most interesting is that the film’s lead character, Christine (Ronan), is undoubtedly a Gerwig type—think, especially, Frances Ha or Mistress America—but Ronan plays Gerwig’s script with a wit and sensitivity that reimagines the hyper-neurotic protagonist altogether.

Gerwig initiates the film’s first act with a narrative sleight of hand. Haphazardly navigating her final year of high school, Christine auditions for the school musical and quickly falls for fellow thespian Danny (Lucas Hedges). This attractive narrative pull—will the play go well? will she get the boy?—seems like it plans to woo us for a good deal of the film, but instead, the play comes together quickly (thanks to one of the film’s many, and admittedly lurching, indie drama montages) and then it turns out, rather suddenly, that Danny is gay, and the movie seems to reset.

Lady Bird, like the other films in the Gerwig-Baumbach canon, is about this kind of adolescent wandering: the way people, especially young people under lots of social pressure, look for containers in which to construct identities. Christine, who chooses to be called “Lady Bird,” is not entirely imitative, but like most teenagers, she’s easily seduced into the posturing and personalities of other kids her age. What makes Lady Bird so compelling is watching her find out that life doesn’t hand out fulfillment (it doesn’t come packaged at Christmas, or even in a boyfriend) and so she has to figure out how she might create meaning for herself.

What more to say: a sweet score by Jon Brion, an anti-prom female homosocial bonding session, Sacramento as the “Midwest of California,” and a slew of Catholic school jokes that only I laughed at. I also cried quite a bit, not as much at the very end, which is a real tear-jerker, but at one of the final narrative bumps, when Christine talks to a nun (Lois Smith) about her college essay and we are hit with the fact that this essay Christine has written is also the film that Gerwig has made. The following exchange between Lady Bird and the nun resounds outward at high decibels:

LB: I was just describing it [Sacramento].

Nun: It comes across as love.

LB: I guess I was just paying attention.

Nun: Don’t you think that maybe they are the same thing—love and attention?

Yes, I think Simon Weil said something similar. But if all this reads as trite, go see the movie for yourself, and tell me—email me at, or throw a stone through my window—tell me if you do not for one moment stop and think about this idea, and embrace it, if just for a quiet second in a dark room.