A Love Letter to Lady Bird
I'm not a stranger to obsession. Ever since I began developing autonomous interests, I took them to the nth degree. I was aggressively enamored with Harry Potter, erroneously infatuated with Catcher in the Rye, and had--probably still have--unrealistic expectations for Taylor Swift's every public move. These love affairs quickly informed large parts of my personality and became security blankets of sorts; lines of texts or contrived chord sequences I could bury myself in when I was feeling any sort of emotion stronger than "indifferent." The latest obsession has taken place in Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.
Upon discussing this with anyone who is unfortunate enough to be held captive, I've come to the quick realization that this coming-of-age story wasn't that remarkable to many. Those who had seen it told me more or less the same version of "It was good...but I don't think I'd see it again." While I am of course very biased, this is insane to me. When I first saw Lady Bird in theaters, I couldn't stop thinking to myself how the film was satisfying a need I didn't even know existed. Like when you eat a meal you weren't aware you were craving or you discover you've somehow been wearing the wrong size jeans all along. So here I am pleading my case for everyone's favorite Oscars oversight of 2017.
Being white and angsty isn't novel, let's just acknowledge that up top. There's coming-of-age narratives assigned to every era, and at this point we really ought to be in the business of telling more diverse stories. I know this. That said: This is the tale of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, living in Sacramento in 2002. It's post-9/11 suburbia; cell phones are a novelty and everything's just a little bit bleak. I was a solid seven years old living in northern Virginia in 2002, therefore I can't wholly relate to the plight of Lady Bird. My parents weren't struggling to buy me socks and underwear for Christmas and I never went to Catholic school, but I still feel a deep and intimate connection that has me wondering who exactly I was before this movie came out. Because while I was a teenager in a different place and a different time, I had so many of the experiences Saoirse Ronan expertly depicts on screen. As a brief aside, let's discuss how perfectly she captures what it's like to be an American teen. Sorry, Molly Ringwald, this 23-year-old Irish woman retroactively has given you a run for your money.
Before I can really deep dive into why I love this story so much, here's your obligatory spoiler alert. There's not a whole lot of shock and awe in this movie, and without context none of the images or scenes I'm about to reference may seem spoiler-y, but it's worth mentioning, just in case.
The film opens on Lady Bird and her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) sleeping in a double bed, facing one another. In the first few moments, we see sweet imagery of a mother tucking her daughter's hair behind her ear and the pair wiping tears from their faces listening to Grapes of Wrath on cassette tape in the car. You think "What an adorable pair," but just before you can start romanticizing, they're bickering. You're reminded of what it was like to be seventeen, rolling your eyes and shouting "Well I'm sorry I'm not perfect!" In this instance, the "you" really means me, and I'm thinking back to that time I snapped at my mom and told her I didn't want to go on "her stupid spring break trip" visiting a bunch of colleges. In hindsight I know that she didn't have to drive a cumulative twenty hours and schedule tours at universities all over the state, but back then I didn't think of my mom as a person and I didn't dare consider the fact that maybe she wanted me to have opportunities she didn't.
Now, I certainly don't think my relationship with my mom is incredibly similar to that of Lady Bird and her mother, but parts of it feel familiar. When they're arguing between racks at the thrift store then immediately are back on good terms upon finding a pretty dress, I think of times when my mom and I started laughing in the middle of a fight because we both realized what we were getting heated over was so stupid. When Lady Bird asks behind the curtain of a dressing room, "Do you like me?" I'm reminded of a time when I asked my mom if she thought we'd be friends if somehow we were the same age and crossed paths at school. And when Lady Bird's mom cries after letting her daughter board a plane and go to college, I immediately conjure an image of mine in the doorway of my freshman dorm room, when she took a step down the hall then doubled back with tears in her eyes just to wordlessly wave one more time. It was so gratifying for me to see a movie about a mother and daughter who aren't "best friends" like Lorelai and Rory (though I love them), but who are their own fierce and ultimately similar people going through growing pains. I always describe my mom as "My mom first, but conveniently also one of my favorite people," and this film tells a similar story, though maybe not as blatant.
Beyond the matriarchal element, Lady Bird resonates with me in ways that have me audibly sighing even on my third viewing. I know I just rambled on and on about the mother-daughter dynamic, and could devote as much time to every other theme or notable plot point, but for the sake of time I'll keep it brief. But we have to talk about:
-Lady Bird's best friend Julie, who just wants to look like the models in fashion magazines, is hopelessly in love with her math teacher, and laments that "some people aren't built happy, y'know?"
-Lady Bird scribbling the name of her boyfriends--Danny, then Kyle--under the molding of her purple bedroom walls, only to eventually paint over both when she moves out.
-The fact that her first college hookup is sparked by asking a stranger "Do you believe in God?" (Because those are the kinds of pseudo-intellectual conversations you have when you're pretending to be an adult.)
-Playing it cool around the pretty and popular girl in school, lying and saying she works at the coffee shop just to learn responsibility, not because she needs the money.
-Getting mouthy at a Pro-Life assembly, because the best way to learn about your personal politics sometimes is to be preached at as a teenager and realize you're being rubbed the wrong way.
-"Different things can be sad, it's not all war."
-"You're not going to get into the car with a guy who honks, are you?"
-"I love [Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band.] I actually want to go to prom."
-"Hi Mom and Dad, it's me, Christine. It's the name you gave me. It's a good one. Dad, this is more for Mom. Hey, Mom, did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento? I did, and I wanted to tell you, but we weren't really talking when it happened. All those bends I've known my whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you I love you. Thank you, I'm... thank you."
One big reason why I love this movie so much is it made me take a good look at myself, especially the parts of myself I don't like so much. I weirdly am drawn to stories with protagonists who aren't the best people. In storytelling, spare me your Glinda the Good Witches and your allegories for God. Give me your messy, box-dyed bright red teenage girls who get emotional the first time they drive alone in their hometown. I'm like Lady Bird in a lot of ways, good and bad. I watch the movie thinking about who I was as a teenager, back when I knew everything. Admittedly, 22 isn't exactly a seasoned age either, and maybe in a few years they'll make a Lady Bird 2 about the namesake protagonist's plights as a recent college grad. I'll go to the theater and think, "Ha! Oh, if only I knew then what I know now."