Read any review, tweet, or basically any form of writing about ‘Lady Bird’ and you’ll likely find a line like: “I feel like Greta Gerwig wrote ‘Lady Bird’ for me” or “It was like the pages of my teenage diary had come to life”. Greta Gerwig’s beautiful debut is a singular experience for any woman because it feels like you are reliving your senior year of high school all over again. This can all be attributed to the fact that this hasn’t been written by a man trying to score a paycheck, but a woman who has lived through this herself.
The unbelievable magic of ‘Lady Bird’ lies in its ability to be so specific in time, place and character, while also capturing the teenage experience so perfectly that it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t see themselves in Lady Bird in some capacity. Too often when a character is seen as relatable, they merely operate as an empty vessel in which one can project themselves on to. But Lady Bird is by no means an empty vessel — she is a richly layered person, with dreams and ambitions and quirks and flaws. Lady Bird is someone I would’ve wanted to be friends with in high school — or at least admired from afar with a debilitating friend crush. Lady Bird is a thoroughly unique person but her experiences are shared by many. When Lady Bird tells her first college hook-up that she’s from San Francisco instead of her actual hometown of Sacramento, it reminded me of when I tell people that I’m from Dubai because it requires less explanation than Abu Dhabi. I have heard stories from friends who go to open houses with their mothers for fun — just like Lady Bird and her mother.
Lady Bird isn’t the only character you could imagine living in your world — we all know a Julie or a Danny or a Kyle or a Jenna. These supporting characters can be found in other coming-of-age movies but are often relegated to embodying archetypes: the loveable nerd, the boy hiding in the closet, the bad boy, the mean girl. In the movie world, you rarely get a sense of their life outside of the immediate sphere of the protagonist. But Gerwig breathes life and depth into them far beyond someone straight out of the breakfast club. In one of the most touching scenes, Lady Bird goes to Julie’s house on prom night, she finds her crying. “Why are you crying?” Lady Bird asks. “I’m just crying – some people aren’t built happy, you know?” Julie replies. We never find out why Julie was crying, but we don’t need to. We learn multitudes about her from one small scene alone. It’s easy to write Kyle off as a douchebag who treated Lady Bird terrible (though he is and he does) but you get the sense that there is more to him than meets the eye. Breadcrumbs are dropped that hint at something more beyond the “hella tights” and the pretentious one-liners. He mentions that his dad has cancer, and we see evidence of this after Lady Bird has sex with Kyle. I’d also like to point out a scene that was cut from the final film that can be found in the screenplay:
Beneath the tough, pretentious exterior, I think there’s a boy who is hurting — who will do anything to make his father happy. I feel that this is one of the film’s greatest strengths — its ability to provide richness, vitality and complexities to the characters with very little on paper.
Most importantly, ‘Lady Bird’ excels in its portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship, and what it truly means to come of age. ‘Lady Bird’ is more than just a coming-of-age story though, in the words of Greta Gerwig, it’s a love story between mother and daughter. The film understands the tumultuous relationship that young girls have with their mothers that few films are able to replicate. One second, Lady Bird and her mother, Marion are crying over ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ in a sweet moment of bonding, and the next they are having a heated argument which ends in Lady Bird jumping out of the car. I’ve seen the film five times with my sister, and I’ve lost count of the amount of times a scene with Lady Bird and Marion has made me turn to her and say, “Oh my god, that’s so you and Mum.” Mothers and daughters bicker like no one else, but it’s all out of love. When tensions reach a boiling point between Lady Bird and Marion, it’s because they are afraid of leaving each other. Greta Gerwig describes the story as “one person’s coming of age is another person’s letting go.” The film illustrates the whirlwind of emotions you experience as high school — and your childhood — draws to a close. Lady Bird itches to get the hell out of the “midwest of California” and forge a new path for herself in New York, but it also means leaving the things you love most behind you. It’s not just your family that you have to sacrifice for independence, but the friends you’ve grown up with, the familiarity of the streets of your neighbourhood, and the stability of a life you’ve always known. Watching ‘Lady Bird’ transported me back to a year and a half ago, when I was counting the down the days until I could move out of home, but at the same time completely dreading it. Growing up is hard, and that message is stitched into every frame with love and care.
What makes ‘Lady Bird’ so universally appealing and relatable is that it feels so utterly real on a level that is unprecedented. It speaks to us in ways that coming-of-age films rarely do. Lady Bird is my best friend, my sister, and my shoulder to cry on — in the future I know I’ll be frequently popping in my blu-ray just to meet her again.