Written by Amber Jackson
This review has been difficult to piece together because, there are so many takeaways from this film. There has been great variation in responses this film, with audiences asking a myriad of questions: can the characters be excused from their actions because they are young? Is Lady Bird’s mother (Laurie Metcalf) really that unreasonable? Or is our protagonist (Saoirse Ronan) little more than a spoilt brat?
Directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird takes viewers on a coming-of-age journey of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a teenage girl living in Sacramento, who is desperately trying to navigate growing up alongside a turbulent relationship with her mother. Those that she encounters are vivid and oftentimes eccentric characters, accompanying moments of comedy with incredibly raw and sensitive moments, as Lady Bird seeks to control her own identity.
Ultimately, this film is one which wrestles with anxieties. Set in 2002, the events of 9/11 are an unsubtle backdrop throughout the film, tapping into contemporary fears that would have been commonplace to those growing up in America in the early noughties. The film also deals with the issue of class and what it means to belong to an American society. Lady Bird’s key focus is on how she is going to get to college and struggles with obtaining money for tuition against the voice of reason, telling her that she won’t amount to anything. Through the hopes and fears of going to university in New York, she desperately seeks to prove the naysayers wrong, in a way that is far less than tactful.
Lady Bird herself deals with personal issues, alongside her desire to break away from home. Romance is flirted with very indelicately and the film deals with the loss of virginity, as well as characters having to come to terms with themselves and what their self-identity is versus what they want it to be. Going in a religious school, Lady Bird and her friends have a motif of faith in the background of their lives, which ultimately raises more questions and concerns over themselves and each other. These life events that are perceived as catastrophic and the most important things in the world by melodramatic teenagers are trivialised in this film, perhaps to suggest that an imperfect experience is more realistic and things going wrong isn’t the end of the world.
These situations feel real. The actors aren’t overly glamourized and Ronan’s character had its blemishes, acne scarring thus making her appearance reflect the age of her character. This realistic portrayal made it feel like a real story about individuals who are flawed and therefore relatable. The importance of film showing its viewers a life story rather than a massive event is something that is being focused on in the media more and more each day, as audiences resonate with real life. Lady Bird realises that she, like everyone else, is imperfect and that life can’t be a fairy-tale and, once she comes to terms with that, she realises what it means to live. She grows to understand her mother and what she perceives to be unreasonable and controlling, is actually done out of love and sacrifice. Likewise, her mother Marion, realises that her daughter’s life isn’t about her and that she must allow her daughter to thrive and grow – which involves letting her go.
The complexity of Lady Bird’s relationships is incredibly realistic and therefore moving. Yes, she is unreasonable, but just like any other teenage girl trying to grow up against what is expected of her. What makes Gerwig’s film resonate so well is that every audience member can take something different away from it, whether you’re a young woman or not. There is a universal experience to growing up and trying to cultivate your individual identity in the process.