Growing up is an experience that everyone goes through at different points of their life, and coming-of-age stories have always been there to document this process. This kind of film comes and goes, but when one creeps up out of nowhere and leaves an impact on me, I hold it in my heart forever. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is one of them.
I watched Lady Bird the first time it was in select theaters. I have been a big fan of Gerwig for her roles in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Mistress America, so it was no secret that I was excited for this film. She mystified me with her charm and goofiness so much that I would watch anything she would direct or star in. Sitting there with a bag of candy I had to rip with my teeth, I did not know what to expect. Three years later, I sure am glad I gave it a try.
Lady Bird is about a witty, stubborn young woman who named herself “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan). She has high hopes for herself and dreams of escaping Sacramento, California in favor of the more cultured East Coast. A lot of things happen in Lady Bird’s last year of high school: losing her virginity, her first break-up, first loves, and getting accepted to her dream school. The most pivotal one, however, is realizing that the most important relationship in her life is with her mother (Laurie Metcalf).
Gerwig’s writing and Ronan’s acting are what sets Lady Bird apart. Gerwig crafts her characters with a lot of care and heart; one can really feel that she has thought out each of her characters’ personalities down to the most mundane of details. Her main character, while charming and confident, possesses flaws. Ronan brings the clever writing to life, embodying Lady Bird so well it was as if the role was made exactly for her.
The dynamic between Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) is heartfelt. Ronan and Fieldstein’s chemistry sells the idea that they have been friends forever. In their school play, they sign up as an inseparable duo. The two gushes over a crush together. They also go through their first breakup together, crying to Dave Matthews Band in Julie’s car. Like most best friends, they come across conflict; their dynamic shifts but both girls are better for it. After a fight, Lady Bird realizes her only real friend is Julie. Julie sees and accepts Lady Bird for who she truly is with all her flaws and strengths. Throughout the film, Lady Bird comes to appreciate and treasure that aspect of Julie. It also made her see how her flaws can hurt the ones she cares for the most. She makes it up to her by attending prom with her, something they have been looking forward to for a long time. Their friendship at this point is bittersweet, not only because of their fight but also because of Lady Bird going away for college. Friendships change and they never become the same again; a familiar feeling when leaving high school.
Similarly, Lady Bird and Danny (Lucas Hedges)’s friendship is a special one to me. The pair connected through dating, but they transformed their relationship into a friendship. It does not become a forefront of the film, but it does strike a chord in me that a closeted gay teen found a friend in Lady Bird. It is a representation of allyship that doesn’t glorify the ally and focuses on her friend. The exchange shows how Lady Bird moves outside of her little bubble that focuses only on herself.
I find that I related a lot to Lady Bird in this aspect especially as a teen. I also didn’t really see others outside of myself—I was an angsty self-centered teenager, probably more than Lady Bird. The tender moments between Lady Bird and Danny showed how she was able to grow. For me, this didn’t really come in one encompassing action but incrementally as I realize my friends and peers have problems that are as bad or worse than my own. These actions came in the form of conversations that really forced me to see things apart from myself.
Unlike Julie and Danny, Lady Bird does not forge a genuine connection with Jenna (Odeya Rush) or Kyle (Timothée Chalamet). Her friendships with Jenna happen because she is enamored by her wealth and her charm. She mostly uses her friendship to get closer to Kyle, a cynical guitarist. Gerwig cleverly writes the dynamic so they are not the ones who are wholly at fault for Lady Bird’s problems. Lady Bird realizes that she put the two on a pedestal, and she saw them not as the real teenagers they are. She romanticizes them to be these ideal versions of what we see in media about popular kids: dumb and rich. It is reflective of the class insecurity that Lady Bird feels around her peers, especially Jenna. When cracks appear in Lady Bird’s rose-coloured glasses, she sees that they are not the friends that would fit in with her. After seeing them for who they are, she returns to her best friend, Julie.
The backbone of the film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mom. Gerwig manages to balance their relationship between being strained and being cooperative. At the beginning, Lady Bird does not make an effort to understand her mom or see where she is coming from. She just tries her best to get her way no matter what. However, her need to be accepted by her mother leads to her hiding things in an effort to please. She tries her best to predict her mother’s reactions which only gets her to more trouble. Slowly, she realizes that her mother is more than just a mother, but a friend, a nurse, and a human being that has a life apart from Lady Bird. In learning this aspect about her mother, she learned to see the people in her life not just as extensions of herself. She realizes her mother cares for her in ways she never considered. This comes as she reads her mother’s letters that her father gives her at the end of the film. In those letters, her mother opens up. Overwhelmed with her words, Lady Bird calls her.
The film is a testament to finding your true self. For some people, this can occur in a few days, a few years, or none at all. Lady Bird gives that cathartic level of understanding for those that reached that. The familiar hurts and mistakes she made can reflect how we lack the insight to perceive people for the way they are and, by extension, who we truly are. The way we interact with people reveals our true identities and the reason behind it gets clearer the more we try to understand it. This understanding can come in waves or all at once; Gerwig writes it through the former. First, Lady Bird realizes that she wants different things in life than the popular kids. Then she realizes that her true friends are the ones she actually connects with on a different level than most people. Finally, she sees that her mother truly cares for her.
The first time I watched Lady Bird, I almost cried. All I could think about was my own relationship with my mama. It confused me at first how such a specific story of a white teenager affected me as a Filipina teenager. Frequently, I thought of the day I watched the film. I was the same age as Lady Bird then. Perhaps, if I was a more selfless person or a different age, I would not see shades of myself in Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother. The film was not beat-for-beat the same events as my life, but I understood the strained relationship between the two women.
I find that there are a lot of times in my life where I take my mother’s love for granted. Since I was young, I never questioned my mother’s love. Back then she would take hours off from work to spend time with me. As a child, I would always want to spend the day with her and didn’t understand at the time why she had to leave for work. As a teen, I relied on my mother a lot, sometimes too much. When I forgot to bring something for school, she would bring important projects to me just in time. She did so with little complaint. Instances like these made me see how important my mother is to me and that no one else can love me in this way. It was only as an adult that I realized mothers are not all the same. There are some who are not accepting or loving of their children. I have learned to be grateful to have a mother like her even though we may not necessarily agree on everything.
Lady Bird can mean different things to different people. That is what’s so special about the film: one can find themselves in the different characters Gerwig has created. For me, it is about knowing yourself the same way others perceive you. Her best friend and her mother always saw the best in Lady Bird; they could see the parts of her that make her truly special. Instead of rejoicing in her difference, she tries her best to hide it to fit into the mold she thinks a teenager should exist in her head, complete with a crew of Jennas, and Kyles. It’s a good thing she found her way home.
Lady Bird is streaming on Netflix.