Lady Bird is a love letter to girls turning into women, and to mothers who love their daughters. Set in 2002 Sacramento, we follow Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who is navigating her way through first love, friendship and plans for the future, while breaking and mending bonds with her mother (Laurie Metcalf ). Greta Gerwig’s witty and spirited semi-autobiographical coming of age tale avoids its genre’s traps of clichés and mediocrity through remarkable characters and flawless comic timing, which remains persistent throughout the film and will have you laughing, crying and cringing in equal measure.

Lady Bird is a film bursting with charm and melancholy and Gerwig does an amazing job of balancing the conventional experiences of coming of age with an exploration of the concept of identity: what it is, how class shape it, and how it changes. Gerwig depicts the restrictions that Lady Bird feels through her Catholic school without portraying the religious institution as the antagonist. Rather, she shows Lady Bird’s desire to shake herself off this religious background as a way to assert her independence and her desire to outgrow her small-town roots.

The most impeccably crafted aspect of the film however, is the unflinchingly candid portrayal of its mother-daughter relationship, which makes this debut feature feel like it has been handled by a master filmmaker. Both Lady Bird and her mother are simultaneously endearing and frustrating characters. Their relationship is by no means ideal – it is often painful and flawed – but it is also strong, beautiful, and full of love. It is this three-dimensionality that makes this story so human and easy to connect with.

Besides Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf ’s sensational performances, Gerwig’s dialogue and pacing make the film come to life. The choice of cuts, which lead us through scenes that don’t always have clear beginnings or endings and flow through snippets of dialogue, make the film feel raw and fresh, and force you to observe Lady Bird’s life the way she observes Sacramento. These brief snapshots also give the impression of a series of scrapbook entries, and build up a sense of bittersweet nostalgia throughout the film. By the end, Lady Bird had me smiling from ear to ear, and I already can’t wait to see it again.