THERE'S a lot of hype around Lady Bird, a funny and authentic coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old high school student and her passive-aggressive mother.
The film made most "best of 2017" lists, has an almost perfect Rotten Tomatoes score and is a serious contender for five Oscars. So yeah, hype. Believe it. Every word of it. It's all true.
Lady Bird is easily the best movie so far of 2018. (Australians are seeing this over two months after its American release.) A film like this very rarely comes along - one with a sophistication of tone and rhythm, of superlative performances and of pitch-perfect writing. Added bonus: It's also joyful, warm and hilarious.
It's almost too hard to write about Lady Bird precisely because it's so wonderful that no words could possibly capture its spirit and convey why this film absolutely has to be seen, and loved. It demands it.
Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is on the cusp of adulthood in 2003, desperate to escape her hometown of Sacramento, described as the midwest of California. She's an average student with a "performative streak" and has aspirations of college on the east coast, which she equates with culture and worldliness.
Her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is a psychology nurse working double shifts to keep their family afloat on the "wrong side of the tracks". The two often butt heads with a dynamic that so many women will relate to, recalling the most bitter fights they had with their own mothers and the love that underpins them.
Over her last year of high school, Lady Bird will have relationships with two boys - the giddy flush of first love with sweet Danny (Lucas Hedges), and the self-serious Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) who, despite living in his parent's opulent and large house, says he doesn't want to participate in the economy - as she looks beyond the confines of her childhood.
She's blindly self-assured in the way only teens can be; she's knowing but not cynical. That moment before adulthood is so attractive to storytellers because there is much to be mined - what we experience and learn in that time informs who we become.
Lady Bird is actor and writer Greta Gerwig's first solo directing gig but you would never know it. Gerwig's command of her film is superb - she appears to have total control over every aspect of it and she makes it look effortless. It's an understated directing style but the way Lady Bird confidently comes together is masterful - it flows from one perfect beat to the next.
Every character is so vividly drawn, from the effervescent heroine, to her adorable but self-deprecating friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), to the football coach who ends up directing the school's production of The Tempest. They are so fleshed out. Even the most minor characters would be able to anchor their own film, especially the quietly effective Tracy Letts as Lady Bird's father, Larry.
Ronan's performance here earnt the young Irish actor her third Oscar nomination and she has a magnetic presence. Watching her spar with Metcalf is sheer delight - the full force of that complex relationship is established within minutes, before the credits - that's how good Gerwig's screenplay is.
Metcalf is currently second favourite to take home the Oscar behind Allison Janney in I, Tonya, but hers is the more accomplished act - it's less showy and every moment on screen hints at a rich inner life.
Lady Bird celebrates the beauty of the seemingly ordinary, embodied in the humble city of Sacramento, and it's so important that at this moment in time, critics and audiences are lauding a film like this, a movie made by a young woman about a young woman.
Lady Bird is a deeply personal and deeply human film with a fresh perspective that you won't be able to resist, and it heralds the arrival of a serious filmmaker in Gerwig.
Lady Bird is in cinemas tomorrow.
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