Lady Bird is an interesting movie – one that will resonate strongly with a lot of people but might leave others cold. Those left cold are likely those who can’t emphasize with the two lead characters: a mother and daughter whose relationship is strained by the fact that they are a little too much alike.
Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is a millennial who changes her name to Lady Bird to stand out and seems to want to do anything she can to fit into a world where she always feels like an outsider. Throughout the movie, Lady Bird continually philosophizes about life topics that are never as important or groundbreaking as she seems to believe.
This puts her regularly at odds with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). While Lady Bird constantly wants more out of her life than what it has dealt her, Marion is fighting to keep her entire family afloat. She is always sitting at the dinner table and working out ways to pay bills – something that gets worse when father Larry loses his job and learns that, at his age, finding another in today’s world is not easy.
The most prominent obstacle for this movie is the fact that both Lady Bird and Marion are highly unlikeable characters. Marion is stubborn and stuck in her ways, and she believes that Lady Bird doesn’t appreciate what she has done to support her all these years. As a result, Marion often reacts to Lady Bird in highly immature ways – something that some viewers won’t relate to, but is strikingly real when it comes to mother-daughter relationships during the teenage years.
On the other hand, Lady Bird really can’t see past herself and doesn’t appreciate what she has – or at least she won’t let herself believe that she appreciates it. There are two scenes in the movie that shows that Lady Bird is lying to herself.
The first involves Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein). After the two end up at odds due to Lady Bird’s desire to be more than she is, Julie lashes out and says that Lady Bird isn’t happy unless she is at the center of attention – a statement that Lady Bird immediately dismisses.
The second moment comes in a meeting with one of her instructors at her Catholic school, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith). When reading a paper that Lady Bird wrote about her hometown of Sacramento, Sister Sarah said that Lady Bird’s love of Sacramento shows through in her writing – unaware of how the title character claims she hates her hometown.
That is important because, at the end of the day, Lady Bird is about two very strong-willed women who can’t see past their shortcomings to see the big picture. This is a story about a mother and daughter who have to learn to understand each other before it is too late.
Director Greta Gerwig has starred in two recent Noah Baumbach films, Frances Ha and Greenberg and learned how to tell stories at his feet. Baumbach specialized in creating movies based on the ’90s that seemed very real to anyone raised in that era and did it with dialogue-driven stories that hooked anyone who loves listening to characters talk.
That is what Gerwig has created with Lady Bird, although she moved her story to 2002 and the start of the era of the millennials. Like many kids that grew up in that era, Lady Bird is someone who feels that there is something out there bigger than what she has at this moment. She feels she deserves to have a chance to be anything – even if Lady Bird has proven she lacks the talent to earn it (such as her ineptitude in math, which confuses her since she claims that should be good at it because her father is).
As a result, Lady Bird herself is a character who doesn’t feel the need to work as hard to get ahead in life – as evident by her comment that she is now in the part of high school when learning new things has passed. However, this is where she has a harsh lesson to learn.
Lady Bird dismisses the people who love and care about her – including her best friend Julie, a boy named Danny (Lucas Hedges) who is going through huge personal problems of his own, and her mother. The only person that she seems to connect with is her dad Larry (Tracy Letts), but she was so preoccupied with her own problems that she never realized he suffered from clinical depression.
Instead, she gravitates to characters like the school’s most popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush) and a musician named Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) who is even more pretentious than Lady Bird herself. Given the nature of the movie, it is clear from the start that by trying to fit into a materialistic society that she is not equipped to deal with, things won’t end well in that aspect of her life.
Some moments seem predictable, especially concerning her new friends, but there are also moments that come out of nowhere like the entire story with Danny. There is also not a typical happy ending moment, but instead a satisfying discovery by Lady Bird that works so much better than any contrived reconciliation with her mother.
There is also an undertone concerning the cost of sin, which plays throughout Lady Bird’s time in Catholic school. This is never heavy-handed but is dealt with in a way to show how these teachings make it harder for some kids to survive in today’s world without beating themselves up over every little thing they face throughout life.
Lady Bird is a movie that works perfectly and delivers a satisfying story about a mother and daughter who can’t live together but have to learn to understand each other if they want to move on in their lives. It is a tender story that involves two characters that seem unlikeable and cruel on the outside but have a deep love inside that they try unsuccessfully to repress until the end.
Lady Bird is the best movie of 2017, and I highly recommended it to anyone who wants a brilliant and touching dialogue-driven film in an era where explosions and superheroes rule the day.