Coming-of-age stories manage to be, at the same time, both unique and universal. Although concrete experiences may differ depending on the era, country, culture, and economic background of its subjects, some elements, needs, and desires are shared by most of us and form part of what we understand as of being human. We long to find our own space in this world, to connect with people, be happy and be free.
Director Greta Gerwig (nominated for an Academy Award) created “Lady Bird” with that belief in mind. While she recreates and brings to the screen much of what she knew from her own experiences as a teenager, there’s a strong element of shared humanity to the story of an artistically inclined teenager struggling to discover her own boundaries, one that can also be recognized by others.
The year is 2002. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by the also nominated Saoirse Ronan, is a high school senior living on the “wrong side of the tracks”, in an era we like to believe was “simpler”, less driven by immediatism and technology. She attends a Catholic school in Sacramento, is part of a theater club, and spends most of her time with her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein in a great performance), a girl, who just like her, is not part of the popular cliques. They talk, listen to music, experience first love, grow apart and come together again.
While there’s nothing particularly fresh about this trajectory, Gerwig elevates her story to a new level by finding her own tone, and by showing a very keen and perceptive eye.
Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) is the kind, loving, and soft-spoken man who has recently lost his job and battles with depression. The support he offers her is unconditional, with secrets of their own and a very inspiring bond. And yet, this is mostly a story about a mother-daughter relationship, one that does not come without its clashes and strains, that shows two people trying their best to connect with one another, overcoming their differences and, most importantly, realizing how similar they are.
Laurie Metcalf, who plays Marion McPherson, is absolutely brilliant in the role of a woman who knows it’s up to her to keep the family and house afloat – it’s all visible in her posture and how she portrays her character. Marion is forced to be realistic, dealing with the stress and pressure that come as a result of reality, all the while drifting apart from her anxious daughter. It is mostly during these interactions that Gerwig exposes how precise her work is. In one particular scene, the two explore a thrift store in search of a Thanksgiving outfit. If they clash due to something small, the smooth and nearly immediate transition to the moment they reencounter a common ground and reconnect is fabulous.
Growing up, facing high school, and finding oneself are naturally confusing eras – we know that – any yet the film’s intoxicating montage helps us relieve and reconnect with many of these experiences.
Much of Lady Bird’s frustration comes from the belief that she’s limited by her family’s economic circumstances, and so she aims for a sophistication they simply cannot afford. But if she can’t control much of what happens around her, she still claims to have a choice on what her name should be. Call her “Lady Bird” – she’ll insist! – already revealing much about her desires and ambitions. It’ attempting to liberate herself from what she believes is keeping her down – be it her city, her mother or her college choices – that Lady Bird rebels, and the movie also finds many of its comical moments. Would you risk a bad injury just to escape your mother’s complaints? Oh, she certainly would.
Funny enough, we seem to spend much of our teenage years looking forward – what’s to come, where we’ll go, what we’ll do, who we’ll become – all the while neglecting and failing to truly grasp the beauty and the pain of what’s happening here and now, unable to understand those who look at the world in different ways. Gerwig’s film, by putting these moments right in front of our eyes, helps us reconnect with that part of ourselves, hopefully accepting and understanding they’re a quintessential part of who we became. So laugh, live, dance – to Dave Matthews Band or not, your choice. And well, if you can, call your moms.
Director: Greta Gerwig (also known for “Nights and Weekends”, in a collaboration with Joe Swanberg.)