Against the backdrop of Sacramento, California, Saoirse Ronan plays Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, authentically embodying the unbelievable selfishness and naivety of adolescence. Greta Gerwig’s solo-directorial debut perfectly captures the coming of age of a teenager in the early 2000s, interspersed with the frenetic back-and-forths of a mother and daughter’s relationship. Lady Bird’s depiction of this dynamic is unabashedly honest, and at times difficult to watch.
Lady Bird is a seventeen year old preparing to graduate from her Catholic girls’ high school who hopes to go to college on the East coast ‘where culture happens’. She is not meaningfully aware of her parents’ financial struggles in achieving this. In one scene where her mother asks Lady Bird if she has any idea how much it cost her parents to raise her, Lady Bird answers that if they give her a figure she will pay it all back.
Lady Bird’s coming-of-age is refreshing; throughout her journey she is not overly awkward or self-conscious and her confidence is unaffected and sincere. This confidence and her impetuous nature appear perplexing and enigmatic, both to the audience, as we recall our unglamourous teenage years, and to the adults in Lady Bird’s life.
Lady Bird encounters dilemmas in sex, romance, and friendship and deals with these herself; asking her mother for advice with absolute vagueness.
When Lady Bird speaks with Sister Sarah-Joan, a nun at her school, about her options after graduation and her fervent desire to leave Sacramento, Sarah-Joan comments that Lady Bird speaks of Sacramento with love. Lady Bird replies that she just pays attention. Sarah-Joan posits that perhaps love and attention are the same thing and with this in mind our observation of Lady Bird and her mother’s fighting is altered significantly; while their relationship is strained and painful, this pain comes from their miscommunication of love, not a lack of love.
Lady Bird and her mother slowly learn to navigate this relationship and their different ways of sharing their feelings. When Lady Bird applies to an East Coast college in secret, her mother is furious and refuses to speak with her, ultimately reneging before Lady Bird leaves for college. We see that Marion’s love for her daughter is ultimately irrevocable, despite their differences.
Ultimately, Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical retrospective of coming of age in her home town is one of reverence and fondness, both for the place, and for the people. Watching Lady Bird and her mother negotiate relationships with each other; people who love both grandly and imperceptibly, feels extremely intimate but also funnily familiar. This window into Lady Bird’s final year in Sacramento will resonate with everyone: her experience is universally felt.
Finn McLysaght – Film Writer