Walking into Lady Bird, a film about a young girl named Christine, who attends an all girls’ Catholic high school, does theater, develops a crush on a boy who sings Giants in the Sky, all while constantly butting heads with her “warm and scary mother” (my Mother would be the first to tell you that no one has a more terrifying glare than her) I was both incredibly excited and worried (Director/Writer) Greta Gerwig had somehow bought the rights to my girlhood. After seeing it, I’m still not sure she didn’t. But coming out of the theater it was clear the majority, if not all the women there, felt the same exact way. It’s sort of a known trick that the more specific something is, the more universal it becomes. In this moving story about a young woman finding her personhood, Greta Gerwig owns that specificity and creates a universal story about realizing how much home means to us as soon as we leave it.
At the beginning of this film we find Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) on her way back home to Sacramento, CA after visiting colleges with her Mother (Laurie Metcalf). The long car ride home is all too familiar as Mother and Daughter weave in and out of biting, overlapping dialogue, attacking each other in the pointed ways only mothers and daughters can. They argue about which college Lady Bird should go to, if she gets into any at all.
Lady Bird is sick of boring Sacramento and is eager to head to a college on the east coast where she’s sure adventure and culture lies. Her Mother however, believes local city college is much more realistic due to her bad work ethic and their poor financial situation. Lady Bird refuses to hear this and dramatically flings open the door of their moving car and jumps out.
We move quickly from there, seeing Lady Bird in a world she so clearly desires to escape. A catholic all girls school full of rules and her overly crammed home with her mother, father, older brother and sister in law, all struggling to stay afloat.
She’s dying to experience something special, to find purpose, but her Mother reminds her daily of their reality and tells her to be thankful for what she already has.
Sister Sarah-Joan (Lois Smith) encourages Lady Bird to audition for the school musical in an attempt to improve her already lacking college resume and perhaps channel her clear need for attention. Lady Bird along with her best friend Julie (played by the charming Beanie Feldstein) both get cast.
Lady Bird immediately develops the world’s largest crush on Danny (Lucas Hedges), after seeing him sing Giants in the Sky from Into the Woods (been there). She confidently tries to flirt with Danny using various lines of dialogue from classic films she more than likely has never seen (also been there). Danny is sweet, romantic, charming and oh boy she’s smitten. In other films, this romance would probably be the entire plot, Lady Bird herself would maybe even like it to be that way, but Gerwig is not here for that.
As a creator, Gerwig thrives showing women in all their complexity, as well as awkwardness, as she already demonstrated in Frances Ha, a film she starred in, and co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. She loves her characters and allows them to learn, grow, fuck up, and just breathe when they need to. They don’t know where they’re going or how things will turn out, they’re just existing and it’s beautiful. Gerwig is observant, subtle, and skillfully pieces together tiny moments in life another filmmaker might deem too dull to show on screen. But it’s those natural moments that make both Frances Ha and Lady Bird so relatable and genuine. At least twenty times during Lady Bird did I go, “wait, I did that too” or “yes, same!”
In Frances Ha, Gerwig wrote a love letter to female friendship and in Lady Bird she has crafted a moving love story between mother and daughter. A relationship that is univocally the most important one in my life and I believe in most others as well. Yet, we rarely see entire movies devoted to it.
Gerwig doesn’t just honor her female characters however, everyone she writes is fully formed. Later on in the film, Lady Bird starts dating a different boy named Kyle (played all too well by Timothee Chalamet), the typical “A People’s History of the United States reading, anti-capitalist, hand cigarette rolling, mysterious boy that Lady Bird, just like so many other girls (me), simply could not resist at that age because of his sheer indifference (oh and he’s in a band too).
Gerwig could leave Kyle to be a typical one dimensional bad boy but she imbues him with complexity and engages our empathy. She grasps the intricacy of why “Lady Birds” fall for “Kyles” in the first place. She is purposeful in her character traits and right on point with the direction of her actors’ performances. It is clear she and the entire cast understand their roles, displayed by the sincerity and warmth they bring to them.
The acting in this film is so seamless you will miss it. Gerwig has always been such a natural actor herself I’m not surprised she is able to direct in the same vein. I never for a moment didn’t believe that Saoirse Ronan was a 17 year old from Sacramento or that Laurie Metcalf was her stubborn, fiercely loving mother. Through skilled acting, a visual style that makes every shot feel like a personal memory, and dialogue that is so natural I must track Gerwig down and beg her for her writing secrets, Lady Bird will transport every viewer back to their cherished high school days.
Overall, this film is an excellent coming of age story that honors those relationships that shape us most into who we are. It gushes heart, attention, and sentiment and Gerwig’s writing and directing appear to have come with such ease that you can’t help but believe it’s a true story. With a directorial debut this strong I simply cannot wait for Gerwig’s future work. Lady Bird will no doubt continue to garner awards attention and will enter into a staple of coming of age films. It’s about time we finally had one about a complex young girl finding herself, rather than just a boy to kiss.
I give this movie 9 Kyles out of the 10 Kyles I wish I never “dated…”
I give this movie 9 out of the 10 times I asked whether this film was literally written about my life.
- Bob Stephenson as the gym coach turned theater teacher is a true gem of a performance.
- The popped collars, crushes on your male teacher, and casual mentions of not eating are completely accurate insights into all girls catholic schools.
- My boyfriend just finished reading A People’s History of the United States…..
- Saoirse Ronan will be nominated for an Oscar.
- Everyone should go call their Mother after seeing this film and thank her.
4 thoughts on “Lady Bird and Christine”
Excellent review Christine. I’ll add that I thought Larry McPherson (Tracy Letts), Lady Bird’s father, was a wonderful character. His struggle with depression and unemployment did not vanquish his capacity to be an effective intermediary between Lady Bird and her mother. He understood both. He played good cop well and secretly supported Lady Bird’s higher collegiate aspirations while knowing that keeping it secret was the only way to keep it alive. The airport scene displayed his deep understanding of, and loving attentiveness to, his wife. His ability to cope with his own brokenness while being a bridge-builder in his family was a beautiful portrait of courage.
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Greg — I couldn’t agree more. I loved this film, and while is is certainly Lady Biid’s story, I found myself profoundly moved by Tracy Lett’s performance as her father. The complicated ways we support both our spouses and children — even when it may seem contradictory — beautifully shine through.