By Anne Isman
“I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is like New York,” declares Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by actress Saoirse Ronan, as she drives with her mother following an onslaught of college tours. Lady Bird is a restless high school senior who dreams of escaping the confines of her Catholic School in Sacramento. As the film progresses, we witness Lady Bird conclude her high school years, experiencing ups-and-downs in her various relationships—all against the backdrop of her strained but meaningful bond with her mother, who is played by actress Laurie Metcalf. On the surface, Lady Bird may seem like another coming-of-age film, yet what makes Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut so striking is that the title character, Lady Bird, is flawed—just like any one of us.
Gerwig is no stranger to an honest portrayal of women in film, as she has played female characters struggling to maintain their identity in the face of adversity in both Frances Ha and 20th Century Women. Lady Bird is no exception, especially considering that Gerwig is also the film’s writer and, like Lady Bird, was raised in Sacramento, making the film almost autobiographical. However, Gerwig has stated that while she drew on aspects of her own life in the film’s creation, Lady Bird and her peers, played by actors Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, and Beanie Feldstein, are fictional characters.
One reason Lady Bird resonates so deeply with a teenage audience is its honest depiction of young adult relationships, specifically that between Lady Bird and her closest friend, Julie. Although their friendship isn’t perfect, the two remain united in their desire to fit in while retaining some semblance of their individuality. They don’t necessarily want to be popular or wealthy, unlike many of their classmates, but they wouldn’t mind more male attention and often light-heartedly converse about their romantic endeavors—or lack thereof. Relationships like this one are tested throughout the film, particularly when it comes to characters’ struggles with sexuality and Lady Bird’s embarrassment about her economic situation—she refers to her home as being “on the wrong side of the tracks” both literally and figuratively. Lady Bird also encounters awkward situations with boyfriends, again demonstrating Gerwig’s honest—but never too serious—portrayal of sex.
Meanwhile, no matter who Lady Bird is trying to impress, rebel against, or become closer to, she never comes off as an unrealistic or overwritten character. Almost any teenager who watches Gerwig’s film can find a part of themselves in Lady Bird’s character and the struggles Lady Bird faces, without feeling patronized or excessively pandered to by the film. In other words, Lady Bird is must-see.
Lady Bird (A24)
Director: Greta Gerwig Rating: R
Writer: Greta Gerwig Running Time: 1h 33 mins
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein