Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?
High school is one of those times in our lives that we never forget. The awkward navigation of puberty, self-consciousness, and tumultuous interpersonal relationships are the baseline for what become our formative years. Trying to figure out who we are and at the same time, keep up on school work and planning the trajectory of the next phase of our life. This can be daunting, but Greta Gerwig was up to the task in her solo directorial debut, Lady Bird.
Lady Bird follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan, as she finishes up her senior year in high school. Her combative relationship with her mother, Laurie Metcalf, causes the primary source of tension throughout the film. The McPherson family’s low-income status reduces Lady Bird’s post high school options and is a major source of stress for her mother. With out-of-state college out of reach, Lady Bird is forced to deal with her ambivalent feelings towards Sacramento and the lackluster prospect of city college.
This authentic portrayal of high school life, has an honest realism that few coming of age movies ever achieve. It has the quirks and awkwardness reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite while still anchored in reality.
Coming of age films can be hit or miss. Usually this is due to over the top storytelling packed full of cheesy and cornball writing. They are predictable and usually don’t bring much to the table except some teen angst and shallow character development. The good thing about Lady Bird is that it is more down to earth and relatable then the run of the mill coming of age movie.
Lady Bird has an authenticity that makes the story and the depth of the characters, primarily Lady Bird and her mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf, more relatable. Lady Bird’s desire to leave home is as much a desire to prove her value to her mother as much as it is to prove her value to herself. She shares a fierce stubbornness with her mother and both of them butt heads several times throughout the film. Lady Bird’s desire to gain acceptance and approval from her mother is equal to her mother’s sentimental-less and rational demeanor.
As the steadfast parent, in an employment sense, Marion focuses all of her energy on making sure that her children get an honest and rational taste of life. The downside is that her version of “honesty” doesn’t come with any kind of sugar-coating. Her stress and exhaustion forces her to be more blunt than necessary. Although, to Lady Bird, this comes across as contempt from her mother. It is Sister Sarah Joan, played by Lois Smith, that reveals to Lady Bird that love can present itself in many forms with her quote, “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”
The way that each characters’ dynamic played off of one another, made them all unique and relatable in their own way. Each character played a role in influencing Lady Bird’s life. The multi faceted and diverse collection of people surrounding her, helped highlight the unifying struggle of trying to find your place in the world; regardless of your age, race, or gender.
The events that take place in Lady Bird’s high school life are normal high school experiences and not over the top hyperbole, similar to what is found in typical coming of age films. The unspectacular and mundane events depicted in Lady Bird, helped focus the audience on the bigger picture. It was not the high school experience itself that was important, but the way that Lady Bird navigated a pivotal time in her life. It is the way that she worked through who she was and who she wanted to become that was important.
Laurie Metcalf did an excellent job portraying the passive-aggressive and demeaning mother that cares so much for her child that she forgets to be nice. She clearly means well, but her lack of tact and abrasive nature leaves Lady Bird wondering if her mother even “likes” her. Her counterpart, played by Tracy Letts, is a perfect good cop to Laurie Metcalf’s bad cop. The yin and yang of personalities allows for disruptive and revealing arguments between Lady Bird and Marion, to be repaired by the more emotionally connected father.
The film seems built around the ending of the movie, I guess as almost any movie is built. It is not until Lady Bird moves away does she realize how much she loves and misses her home. The home she is so desperate to leave throughout the entire film becomes the aspect of her life that she holds dear and doesn’t want to lose. She finds herself holding on to anything that connects her with her family, Sacramento, or her upbringing and that nostalgia is something that many people hold onto as they enter adulthood. There is safety in believing in and reminiscing about the past. Even if your family is not built on a strong foundation there is still a deep love that can bind you together.
The way that Marion’s stubborn nature stops her from saying good-bye to Lady Bird as she leaves for college is the same stubbornness that was her primary coping mechanism when challenged by Lady Bird, financial troubles, and life in general. Her stubbornness was her strength when she was unable to cope with the stresses of life, but at the same time it held her back from fully enjoying her life and relationship with her daughter. Even when she catches herself missing a once in a lifetime moment due to her stubborn nature and turns around, it is still too late. Sometimes the most important moments happen in a blink of an eye and if you are not paying attention you will miss them.
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Cinematography: Sam Levy
Screenplay by: Greta Gerwig
Edited by: Nick Houy
Music by: Jon Brion
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet
Runtime: 1h 34m
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Distributed by: A24