In a year full of heartwarming or, alternatively, emotionally devastating scenes, my favorite is not necessarily either one of those. I would argue that it’s probably not even the best in Lady Bird. But it’s without a doubt the funniest scene in any movie, maybe in years.
After the original priest (Stephen McKinley Henderson) who runs plays for Lady Bird’s high school leaves to attend to his mental health, he’s replaced by the ill-equipped JV football coach, Father Walther (Bob Stephenson), who is tasked with directing The Tempest. We get a quick glimpse at what a tough time he’ll have upon his introduction, when he asks the whole cast to take a knee, but he gets his chance to shine at the blackboard, where he stages the play.
Stephenson is excellent at the blackboard, confidently fumbling with what form this should actually take. He’s doing his best — no one will ever say he lacked intensity — but obviously knows he’s out of his element. He has one actor running “a post route” to get to their spot on stage, while drawing lines aggressively to signify it’s time for another actor to be singing.
The camera shows the high schoolers sitting on the floor, vigorously taking notes to jot this all down. The scene is funny immediately — as is the conceit — and, as it keeps going, gets funnier and funnier.
This scene is the only one in Lady Bird that feels a bit absurdist, but the trope of a coach being thrown in charge of something they’re not qualified for is a familiar one. In Mean Girls, it’s Coach Carr teaching health. At my school, it was the wrestling coach suddenly leading an AP Chemistry class for a few weeks. In Lady Bird, it happens to produce the year’s funniest scene.
Featured image via A24.