Lady Bird (2017). 94 minutes. Directed by Greta Gerwig. Featuring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein.
I know them.
When I walked out of the theater after seeing Lady Bird, that was my overwhelming thought. The film is a story of an overworked mother, an unemployed and depressed father, and their high school daughter, who is on a journey to find herself and escape her hometown of Sacramento. Each of their stories was so relatable—I saw myself and the people in my life reflected on the screen.
Writer and director Greta Gerwig masterfully portrays the strained and life-giving relationship between mother and daughter. Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf) and her daughter Christine (Saoirse Ronan) are the centerpieces of Lady Bird. As a full-time nurse and the family’s sole breadwinner, Marion struggles to keep the family’s finances out of the red and expects her daughter to be realistic when planning her future. Christine, however, is in full rebellion, even rejecting her given name and demanding to be called “Lady Bird.” She wants her mother to be more like a friend, one who supports her dream of going to college on the East Coast. Christine isn’t ready to throw away her creative passions and big dreams to become an adult with adult worries and adult constraints. This difference in priorities creates a tension that plagues Marion and Christine’s relationship throughout the film. However, we also witness the characters’ evolution. Christine learns that her mother’s overbearing presence is her way of showing her love. Marion learns she can’t control her daughter. And they both discover how similar they really are.
During one pivotal scene, Marion and Christine are in the dressing room of an off-price clothing store. Christine tries on a gorgeous dress that she loves and shows it to her mother. “Isn’t it too pink?” says Marion, adding another piece of criticism to the barrage she’s been piling on Christine the entire film. You can almost hear Christine thinking, Is anything I choose good enough for you?
“Do you even like me?” Christine asks, genuinely.
“Of course, I love you.”
“But do you like me.”
And Marion has no response. In this moment, when Christine is looking for even the smallest approval from her mother, that the tables turn. She takes on the role of the adult and Marion is the child who can’t even bring herself to tell her daughter that she likes who she is. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are flawless in their portrayal of this complex roller coaster ride of the mother-daughter relationship.
Refreshingly, the women in Lady Bird take centerstage. Oftentimes in film, if women are the main characters, their lives are defined by their relationships with the men around them. Not so in Lady Bird. Christine and her best friend Julie have a bond that reminds me of the cherished relationships I have with my girlfriends—ones that endure fights and time-consuming boyfriends and can be trusted with your most closely guarded secrets. Christine has love interests throughout the film, but they act merely as distractions from Christine and Julie’s friendship.
In addition to the film’s wonderful thematic elements, the cinematography was beautifully intentional. When Marion and Christine drive alone through Sacramento, at separate times in the film, the filtered light from the setting sun perfectly captures the nostalgia and attachment both characters feel toward their hometown. Christine talks constantly about wanting to get away from Sacramento, but this scene reveals that her yearning to discover something new doesn’t override the fondness she still feels toward her city and the people who live there.
When I left the theater, I understood why Lady Bird has a record-breaking Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s a film most people will find difficult not to enjoy. Funny, unexpected, beautiful, real: Greta Gerwig created something truly incredible. And it won’t disappoint.