As promised, after two long years, I am finally writing about Lady Bird. This is Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut and I have absolutely loved it since the very first watch. I adore coming-of-age movies. For many people, this genre is a reflection of their adolescence that comes with milestones such as graduating from high school, going to prom, and experiencing their first crush. These movies show the characters growing from their silly teenage selves and learning about the pains and responsibilities of the adult world.
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age movie set in the early 2000s about a rebellious teenager, Christine McPherson, who calls herself “Lady Bird”. It explores themes of friendship, self-identity, personal growth and attachment. However, the central theme of Lady Bird is the complex relationship between Lady Bird and her mother, Marion. While their relationship is filled with passive-aggressive conversations there are moments of tenderness and warmness between the mother-daughter duo.
The nature of the relationship between Lady Bird and Marion is established from the very first scene of the movie, where we see Lady Bird and Marion driving back to their hometown, Sacramento after visiting college campuses. They are listening to an audiobook and tearing up. Once it is over, Lady Bird and Marion are so moved that we see them crying together. It is a beautiful scene, but also a misleading one as it is the very first time that we see these two characters connecting emotionally. They wipe off their tears and start laughing at each other Lady Bird decides to change the mood by listening to some music while her mother protests which makes Lady Bird angry. She does not say anything and then turns to stare out the window. The moment of connection does not last long and we see it quickly fracture to reveal the tension between them.
This is where we start to get to the heart of the conflict. Lady Bird does not want to live and study in Sacramento. She wants to live in New York, where she can be free and explore the culture and arts. When Marion hears this, she expresses that her daughter will not be able to achieve this. We see Marion underestimating her daughter’s ability to see this through. Marion points out that her family can barely afford to pay if she went to a state college. She talks about how Lady Bird’s father’s company is laying people off and he might not have a job soon. Marion also points out that Lady Bird does not care about anyone but herself. This infuriates Lady Bird, and in the true reckless teenage fashion of making a statement she suddenly opens the car door and jumps out. This scene is the epitome of what their relationship is like. Both of these characters are equally flawed. Though they love each other deeply, they do not know how to express their emotions to each other and whenever they have a conversation, it ends up in a screaming match.
In examining the titular character, we could say that Lady Bird is often obnoxiously outspoken, dishonest about many things especially her identity, prone to selfishness and throwing tantrums when things do not go her way. Yet she has commendable qualities too, such as her determination to make it out on her own in spite of her family and teachers’ deflating comments about her abilities. She calls herself “Lady Bird” and she states that it was “given to me, by me” as an act to reject everything her mother has given her, including her hair. As for Marion, her internal conflict is that she is unable to express her emotions to her daughter. Her own abusive relationship with her mother would have contributed to that. Marion projects her insecurities and fears onto Lady Bird. It is established that the two characters have “strong personalities” and they have a difficult time hearing each other’s problems.
A pivotal moment is when Lady Bird gets suspended for expressing her views on abortion at the school assembly. Her mother is distraught and asks Lady Bird if everything that they have done was not enough for her? The long hours that she works at the hospital was all for her to get the education that she needed for her future (also, because her brother saw someone getting knifed outside the public school) and safety. All her anger and frustration pour out at the moment and she tells Lady Bird that her parents know that she feels very ashamed of her. Everything that they have done for her is never enough for her, Marion says. Lady Bird is crying and pleads to her mother that she does care about them.
The big blow in this scene is when Marion asks Lady Bird if she knows how much money it cost to raise her. Lady Bird is furious by this remark and she tells her mother that she will repay all the money back one day so that she never has to talk to her ever again. At this moment, Marion says that she will never succeed in life because Lady Bird has now thrown away the one opportunity that she had for a better future.
Despite these clashes between mother and daughter, one of the most touching scenes in the film is after Lady Bird loses her virginity there is no one there for her, except her mother. Marion does not know why she is crying and Lady Bird does not talk about it with her. Maybe it is because Lady Bird does not know how to have that discussion with her or if she talks about it, Marion might get upset. This is the first time we see Lady Bird and Marion not getting into an argument. It is simply heartwarming to see this side of the relationship between these characters.
“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”
As the movie progresses, we see Marion’s struggle to compromise and reconcile with her daughter. While she loves Lady Bird deeply, she cannot let go of the vision of what she thinks her daughter should be. In a scene at the thrift shop, Marion and Lady Bird are shopping for her prom dress. When Lady Bird wears a dress that she loves, her mother considers and asks her, if the colour pink is too much? This annoys Lady Bird and she goes back to change. Lady Bird asks Marion that instead of making irrelevant comments, it would be nice of Marion to compliment her. When Lady Bird asks her if Marion likes her, Marion says that she loves her. But Lady Bird repeats the question and asks her if she likes her. Marion is confused. She does not understand what her daughter is asking. So to reassure her, Marion says that she wants her daughter to be the best version of herself. The heartbreaking part of this conversation is when Lady Bird asks, what if this was the best version of herself. Marion does not know what to say to her daughter and is left too shocked to say anything else to her daughter. As a viewer, this is a moment where you would think that she would turn around and say something more to her daughter, but Marion is left speechless.
Gerwig’s films are a reflection of who she was as an adolescent. She explores themes such as friendship, complex relationships with parents, the journey of growth and maturation of a woman. Gerwig is able to facilitate a sense of realness and authenticity when capturing the complexity of the family and its dynamics, as well as portraying flawed individuals in a way that resonates with our own internal dialogues and struggles. Especially in the process of growing up, we may have found ourselves in Lady Bird’s shoes one way or another.
“No, I just wish… I wish that you liked me.”
“Of course I love you.”
“But do you like me?”
“…I want you to be the very best version of yourself you can be.”
“What if this is the best version?”
At the end of the movie, we see Lady Bird struggle less to denounce aspects of herself and reach a greater level of self-acceptance. In a scene towards the end where Lady Bird has earned her driving license and is driving alone for the first time on the bridge of Sacramento, we see her mom mirrored, driving on the same bridge. Lady Bird concedes for the very first time in her life that Sacramento is beautiful, and realizes what her mother sees and loves about the place that Lady Bird has been desperately trying to flee. She had never taken the time to look thoroughly herself. She can never ‘leave’ Sacramento as it is a part of her, and unconsciously, she will always.
Ultimately, Lady Bird accomplishes her dream of going to college in New York. Though we see her go through a rough night of partying and ending up in a hospital, the first thing she does when she gets up the next morning is to stumble into a church. A little while later, she calls her mother and leaves a message in a voicemail. We see her accepting her real name, Christine, and even tells her mother it’s a good name. She then asks Marion about her first time driving in Sacramento. The movie ends with Lady Bird thanking her mother and telling her she loves her. While we reach the conclusion of the movie with Marion still struggling to fully reconcile with her daughter’s dreams, we are moved by Lady Bird’s journey of growing up. She even achieves a sense of gratefulness. Her final phone call to her mother gives us hope, that even if Marion continues to struggle to see eye to eye with her daughter, at least Lady Bird will take initiative to forge that connection with her mother and move their relationship to a place where they can accept each other, even if they want different things. After all, life is a work in progress, and as Lady Bird shows us, you may make a ton of mistakes along the way, but the important thing is to never give up.