I had a writing professor once tell me that the best autobiographical stories are not written the day after the event. It is best to wait and let it age, like a fine wine. She suggested about ten years, maybe more. In Lady Bird, director and writer Greta Gerwig tells a coming of age story about a girl in her senior year at a Sacramento Catholic high school in 2002. It may not be autobiographical, but the viewer can easily assess that some of the tale is inspired from life. For me, and perhaps others who left high school in the early 2000s, Lady Bird is one of the first coming of age stories from my generation about my generation and told so well and authentically that I just want to personally thank Gerwig for this wonderful film.
Christine is such a strong willed teenager that she has renamed herself Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan). She also rolls out of a moving car when her mother (Laurie Metcalf) starts bashing her big college dreams over her grades. The neon pink cast that results is a constant reminder of her style: brash, defiant, but not invincible.
The story unfolds along Lady Bird’s senior year of high school. She has friends, joins clubs and finds a boyfriend only to toss them aside later in her attempts to find her true self. The things that really matter are never truly lost. It’s a rollercoaster of a year for our Lady Bird, like watching a whole high school career of angst shoved in one sitting. And then there is the added pressure of applying to colleges.
Lady Bird has big hopes of going to college on the east coast, far away from her suburban Sacramento life that she claims has no culture. Her family is not the most well-to-do, and even jokes with some friends that she lives on the wrong side of the tracks. With her father’s help, and behind her mother’s back, she applies for financial aid and to her dream schools. It’s a big, bold step in her preparation to leave the nest.
Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, though it appears she doesn’t practice the religion herself. In fact, there is a great scene where she pulls a prank on a nun and another where she ruins an assembly on abortion. Nonetheless, there are times when the Catholic influence is apparent in both positive and negative ways. A poignant scene where her mother is so upset she won’t even speak to Lady Bird, she apologizes and pleads in the kitchen at her mother, “I know I’m bad. I know I’m not good enough. I’m sorry.” I’ve never seen a more realistic depiction of Catholic guilt. Both Ronan and Metcalf nail the love and tension in this scene, as they do in the whole film.
Lady Bird has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Greta Gerwig is nominated for best director, the first woman nominated since 2009. Our leads, Ronan and Metcalf are nominated for lead and supporting actress. Lady Bird is also nominated for original screenplay. Though I realize the field is very thick this year, I personally hope Gerwig wins for director. I hope this not just because she is a woman and a bit of an underdog in this category, but I truly think she directed an amazing, poignant film and deserves the win.
What makes Lady Bird such an amazing film are the wonderfully talented actors and the authentic storytelling. Saoirse Ronan leads the film with such vigor, she becomes the defiant, half-bloomed Lady Bird with natural ease. And Laurie Metcalf butts heads so perfectly with her that the two together are a perfect mother-daughter storm on screen. The story they, the other fine actors and Gerwig tell is a unique coming of age story that resonates with so many, especially young women.
“People go by the names their parents give them, but they don’t believe in God.”