Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is an interesting film for a number of reasons; it’s a great comedy, a family drama, a film about identity, a brilliant coming-of-age tale, and a powerful women’s story told both for and by women. However, above all, it’s a film about relationships with family members, friends, and loved ones, their power to provide warmth and comfort, but also their ability to be absolutely infuriating.
The film seems relatively simple at a glance; it tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), and her last few months of high school. The narrative branches out to a number of personal conflicts happening all at the same time for Christine, including friends, romantic relationships, and college applications. Of course, these are no big deal in terms of major world events, but the film is acutely empathetic in its understanding of subjectivity and the complexities of people; we are often frustrated with Christine and the decisions she makes, yet the film understands that, within these mistakes, people grow and learn … Lady Bird never judges or condemns any of its characters, but allows them the space and time to reflect and evolve as the film progresses.
Not only this, but Gerwig’s film also never judges the importance of its own subject matter. For example, the title ‘Lady Bird‘ comes from Christine’s given name, to which, she has given herself. The name of the central character changes as the film plays out depending on who is talking to Christine/Lady Bird, with her mother in particular wishing to oblige to her requests to be called ‘Lady Bird,’ yet at the same time, not wishing to lose the importance of the name she herself had given to her daughter. The name change feels like a rejection from Christine to her mother, yet to Christine, it’s an act of self-expression and independence. The film is on neither side of this argument, yet understands the very real emotional heartache that both Christine and her mother feel.
This brings us to the most interesting element of Lady Bird … the relationship between Christine and her mother Marion (played expertly by Laurie Metcalf). Their relationship is captured so perfectly by the film, they argue, disagree, and flat-out ignore each other on and off throughout the film, yet their love for each other is never not apparent, for we understand that the reason they act so passionately is precisely because of the closeness they share. In one scene, Christine and her mother are shopping for a prom dress. As they look at possible dresses, they bicker about how infuriating each other are, they argue over the most insignificant and trivial things … yet suddenly, Marion pulls out a dress she likes from the racks, “ahh, it’s perfect!” says Christine, “do you love it? replies Marion. The scene is played for comedic effect, yet its tone creates a perfect microcosm for most mother/daughter relationships. Christine and Marion stand on a constant knife-edge for potential arguments, yet they also stand on the same knife-edge for deeply relating to each other. They seem at times like the absolute worst of enemies, yet we see how much they need and respect one another as the film slowly unravels and develops. Most importantly, the film doesn’t stand in Christine’s corner against Marion, but understands each woman’s personalised point-of-view, even during moments of absolute selfishness.
Lady Bird is a complex film that stems from the experience of life, of growing up, having children, hating your parents, loving your parents, and everything in-between. However, this is only one reading of a film that also has much else going on, much else that anyone and everyone can relate to, no matter who you are.