As a huge Greta Gerwig fan, I am not surprised that I liked “Lady Bird”. However even I am surprised, despite my extreme partiality for this actress-turned-writer-turned-director, about how much I actually loved it.
During the course of the film, we follow a year in the life of Christine Mcpherson aka “Lady Bird” (that is her given name; she gave it to herself after all!), one full of tears, trials, and many tribulations of youth. We watch her gain and lose friends, witness her first flirtations with boys, as well as see her conflict with those closest to her as she tries to figure out who the hell she is supposed to be.
There are a lot of laughs to be had in the film. The script is incredibly witty, with quick-fire lines and a brilliant array of characters, even the most minor of which adding a special something to the film (a personal favourite being Bob Stevenson’s sports-coach suddenly turned theatre director). However, a lot of the humour of this (soon-to-be) cult classic stems from its utter relatability. As a character, despite having her own uniqueness of spirit and quirky charm (captured brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan), Lady Bird is the quintessential young person on the cusp of adulthood. This is a great time of cluelessness and discovery in our lives, where mistakes are made and awkwardness is to be had. We cackle as we watch it because we know we made similar, if not the same, errors of judgement and endured the same brutal slaps by reality as she does.
For instance, her first romantic interactions with boys resonate only too well. We too gushed our own undying devotion to our first boyfriend, despite our only real notion of love at this point being our knowledge of what the “bases” are. After that relationship inevitably ended, we too found ourselves falling for a guy like Kyle (played by Timothee Chalamet): the overly contrived indie outsider whose cigarette fumes just about mask the stench of his over-pretentious tripe. The greatness of Kyle as a character is that, even though we can see his objective awfulness, we understand only too well Lady Bird’s attraction to him. As one review puts it: he is exactly that type of boy that “we roll our eyes at but end up going home with anyway“.
Nonetheless, Lady Bird’s romantic endeavours are only a very small part of the tale, this fact itself adding to the magic of the film; it fails to buy into the Hollywood narrative that the life of every young woman revolves around getting a boyfriend. Instead, “Lady Bird” remains so incredibly relatable to us as it so perfectly and comically portrays our desire to matter. That is, to be something and someone exceptional, despite the harsh reality of life: we are not as special as we like to think. At the start of the film, Lady Bird is the epitome of a dreamer, one for whom reality is nothing but a rather irritating inconvenience. This veil of glorious ignorance particularly extends to her perception of herself. She wears a child-like shield of invincibility; she truly believes that she can do anything, and be anything that she wants to be. The extremity of this self-belief is highlighted in one particularly comic moment when she asks to be put on the Math Olympiad at her school despite, as her teacher kindly puts it, “math not being her strong point”. Even though her eighteen years of existence have told her otherwise, Lady Bird still believes she has the potential to be some undiscovered maths genius, the sad reality being – she really is not.
Yet, as the film progresses, not only does Lady Bird realise some of her short-comings (she soon gives up the maths dream); she also has the realisation that there is more to life than her own dreams and desires. In short, she grows up. She learns this in part due to her disappointing romantic experiences, but mostly through her relationships with those closest to her. For instance, Lady Bird begins to see the mental health struggles of her father, as well as some of her closest friends, something she missed before with her own self-absorption. As a dialogue of mental health is only really just beginning within in our society, I do appreciate Gerwig’s efforts to bring them to light within the film. Whilst these issues are only briefly touched on, they manage to give the audience an important lesson. Even if it is normal to be self-focused, particularly in our youth, it is worth actually listening to those around us; they might be struggling more than you think. Through these experiences, Ladybird begins to see beyond herself and grow accordingly.
However, the main area in which we see Lady Bird’s maturity grow has to be from witnessing her relationship to her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Marion is a hard-working nurse grounded to the point of cynicism, who is only too ready to notice Lady Bird’s failings and try snap her back into reality. At times, she can be laughably blunt and harsh on Lady Bird, both on her abilities and on her as a person. We must note, however, that Marion is not cruel. She is left to manage the family on a very small income. She doesn’t question the unfairness of it all; she just deals with it and the toughness of life. She, thus, wants to prepare Lady Bird for the worst in life because, to be honest, that is pretty much what she herself has had to deal with. Even Lady Bird recognises that everything she says and does is because she cares for her and for the family, shown as she defends her mother against any challenger.
Yet, what is interesting is that, during the film, we come to learn that, actually, the two women are not as different as we initially thought. Sure, Lady bird is the extravagant extrovert with her own sense of style and order, and her mother is a plainly dressed reserved figure who respects the regular status quo of life. But, even Marion’s firmly planted feet can’t stop her head occasionally drifting into the clouds too; she secretly has a dreamer inside of her. In one scene, for instance, we see her enjoying an idyllic drive of glorious sunshine, gorgeous music accompanying her travels. This then is brutally cut to a shot of her husband on the toilet, in the drab, silent interior of their bathroom, whilst they discuss issues of money within the confines of that room. The filming and editing of those two scenes are brilliantly done as they conspire together to highlight what life has told the mother: dreams are briefly lit candles in the ghastly winds of reality.
However, perhaps life is not quite as stark as all that. After all, Lady Bird does, in fact achieve her dream; she gets to leave her hometown to embark upon her acting dreams. She does learn that her new life isn’t as golden-encrusted as she originally would have thought. But, it’s okay. Equally, even if her mother is not living the life that people yearn for in youth, there is still happiness to be found there. She has a loving family, and a husband with whom she laughs, even during the toughest of times. She is okay too.
And that is the true message of “Lady Bird”: life will not be the perfect fantasy you have imagined. But, you know what? It’ll still be pretty great, in its own way. With that, you cannot help but get that gorgeous glow that only a truly amazing as well as heartwarming film can give you.